Gene Woodwick — Lazy days on the Humptulips bring local history alive

Somnolent summer days make one want to chuck everything, find a good friend with a drift boat and slowly coast down all 37 miles of the Humptulips River from the headwaters to the North Bay of the Harbor.

Lacking such a friend, the next best thing is to grab some grits, a cold drink and a companionable dog for a drive along the North Beach to catch glimpses of the river and think back and remember its long history, while you enjoy Ma Nature’s offerings. The armchair hometown tourist can just imagine going from “stem to stern” down the river or follow the ‘trail’ in the opposite direction.

Delta doings

Near the mouth of the Humptulips delta, the Washington State Department of Fish & Wildlife’s fishing launching site is empty, empty in the morning sun. So empty that fat slugs are sending out quivering antennae as they rest in the graveled parking lot and the restroom area is spotless — quite a difference from the days of hon-yocks leaving their gross tailings behind for real fishermen to endure.

Canary grass and thimble berries line the lane to the entrance where the “Discovery Pass Required” sign is posted. Is the $30 pass scaring away the bad-mannered so-called fishers? Certainly the real fishers know their license comes with a free pass to fishing holes. The Hump is flowing placidly as it nears the delta.

A rather disturbing new sight is the erosion holes in the riverbank. Is this a continuation of the Ocean Shores peninsula erosion of the past six months?

Old highway treasures

Cutting across Highway 109 on Powell Road to the old Ocean Beach Highway, there are no crawdad traps in the swamp. They used to be a familiar sight.

But, now is the time for those who are gathering cat-tails for their fall bouquets to slog into half dry ditches and snip off their favored pieces to take home, spray them with hairspray and hang them upside down to dry.

Turning north just pass the ‘Y’ where the river bends to the right, one remembers this was a long ago permanent camp for a Quinault Indian group.

One of the first lumber operations on the North Beach took over their domain and named it Wilderness; complete with a onetime post office.

Farm country memories

Up the road a ways at the beginning of the hundred year-old farming area, a sign of the times reads, “Weiner Pigs for Sale.” Heck, that’s OK because it gives you time to see all the farm fields on the right that once sported a huge bulb and Iris industry, along with dairy farms — and to get that good feeling as you see the summer hay in, all wrapped up in fat white marshmallows of protective plastic.

North of that, the massive DOT project at the southern end of Tulips Road and the Ocean Beach Highway has certainly re-configured the big curve between the Humptulips and some of its meander channels to the east. Drivers need to be prepared for the flaggers protecting the chip seal machine operators.

No matter how many pieces of huge equipment are kicking up dust, the field birds are busy gathering seeds from the drying blossoms of the hack bushes.

In the Roberson Road area, the old, wonderfully designed, concrete Tulips Grade School is looking good with its owners having completed the restoration.

The new U-Pick lavender farm is worth a gawk or two, especially if you roll down the window to catch a whiff of their product.

Coming up near the fork of the Humptulips off to the left, nostalgia takes over and one can almost hear the whiff-whiff of the sternwheeler, the JOSIE BURROUGHS, nearing her landing in the old days.

Timber country

At the junction, one misses the shake mills that used to send their cedar smell to tickle the senses. They have been replaced with signs advertising free lunches for impoverished children.

Taking the Kirkpatrick Road north is to get almost into the heart of the Humptulips Valley to the right. Now this is real beach folks’ country, hardly a house in sight, patches of slash drying for the late fall burn where small clearcuts are in the process of timber harvest.

This is old, old timber harvest country where W.D. Mack made his first pile of bucks to take on the woods of Hoquiam River and of the east county. Subsequent harvests were even larger by gypos who stepped aside for the Polson Company and Rayonier operations.

The first sniff of fall is already showing in the roadside vegetation. The golden yellow of bracken fern is offset by the reds and maroons of some of the vine maple trees. The laughter of kids enjoying Camp Bethel drift on the air close to the curve of the Hump where soon the fall steelhead fishers will be congregating.

Side trips

A side trip on the Moody Road is the ultimate for old farm kids and real beachers. The drifts of small-headed lavender thistles are drawing flocks of small birds to fuel up on its seeds. At some long-forgotten home place, a towering deep red climber rose is wearing a veil of blackberry vines crowning the bush with snowy white blossoms, clusters of green berries and a few jewels of obsidian ripe gems.

A couple of ancient spruces lord it over the ankle high seedlings that are the beginning of a tree farm. The fields of hay are shorn and some folks are out in their yards washing off their drift boats.

Back at the crown of hill on Kirkpatrick Road towering trees are nearly ready for harvest at the old Polson/Rayonier Camp 6 that the city folk packed up and moved to Tacoma as a logging museum tourist attraction. Now it too is gone. Only the memories of old days cling to both spots.

Humptulips Hatchery

At the state-owned Humptulips Hatchery, the park is at its prime. Vines clipped into submission ring around a newly clipped lawn. Orange clusters of Mountain Ash contrast with the deep green of the surrounding fir trees.

Fishers may enjoy the output of the hatchery product, but for many beachers the park setting is a worthy trip in itself. Of course, you gotta take the kids or grandkids down to the ponds to see the fish. Budget cuts in Olympia cut off the production of 500,000 Coho this year, along with one of the staff members.

Steven’s Creek is bare of fishers but it is worth a stop of take a gander downriver and remember this was the site of the first commercial sawmill in what was Chehalis County and now Grays Harbor. Don’t be fooled by the lack of visible fishers though, it’s been a hot year this season on the Hump. It is tapering off now but no one has given up on his or her favorite fishing hole.

Way upriver

Way upriver, past the Loomis Rearing Pond area, formerly husbanded by the former Grays Harbor Fisheries Enhancement Task Force, are the remains of the Century fish hatchery in the area at Rainbow Creek above Donkey Creek. Long forgotten, it was overshadowed by the Quinault Lake hatchery.

For the history buff, it is things like that old hatchery and other Humptulips River information that would be on an old Metsker Map if only one could be found.

This person would so enjoy taking a look at such a map. If someone may have one hidden in a drawer or shelf and would like a big pan of homemade cinnamon rolls, I would make them a trade.

Salmon derby

Now is a good time to check out the gear at the Humptulips Store — they just might have something you need and it is surely the place to jawbone about fishing. And it’s also a great place to get ready for the October Salmon Derby sponsored by the store as a fund-raiser for the local District 17, Station 86, and Fire Department.

In past years, the Humptulips Valley Foundation donated the proceeds to the food bank but recently the dedicated firemen need a helping hand.

The largest King will bring its owner a $500 prize. But, the real beacher contest is the Mystery Silver competition. Everyone who brings their silver to the store to register will have their name put into a drawing. They will have a chance to compare their silver to a fishing cap full of weights. The winning fish will receive $250.

Now that is a contest worth entering just for the fun.

So, chuck away all those nagging yard chores and honey does. Nag a drift boat-owning friend into a lazy river trip. Or, if all else fails, catch up on the story of a river that has a history of about 150 years of commercial use for farming, forestry and gravel pits, yet is still the finest recreational fishing area in the state.

The Humptulips has thousands of year’s history of river use by the Quinaults who helped many, many homesteaders of the valley. Can’t beat all that, especially on a somnolent summer day.

Gene Woodwick may be reached at