When I took a gaggle of children out for some playtime at Woodard Bay last week, we were met with old familiar beauty and new, improved design. We walked the long, familiar paved road that turns to gravel and then, miraculously, to grass, sand and expansive blue water. We noticed new plantings, new structures and plenty of new interpretive signage.
According to the Department of Natural Resources website, “Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area was designated by the legislature in 1987, one of the first in the state. A wildlife sanctuary that is just minutes from downtown Olympia, this 800 acres site protects habitat ranging from marine shoreline and wetlands to mature second growth forest. The site has a rich and varied human history that includes Native Americans, early settlers to southern Puget Sound and the logging and shellfish industries.”
The beauty of the area has been enhanced over the years through a series of restoration projects. Because the area was used from the 1920s through 1980s as a log transfer facility for the Weyerhaeuser Company, there were a variety of creosote laden industrial structures that needed to be evaluated for removal.
A portion of the Chapman Bay Pier – the portion that was not the primary roost area for the famous Woodard Bay bat population – was also removed along with the Woodard Bay trestle. The restoration at Woodard Bay has been a long, thoughtful process because many of the old remnants of logging industry also double as homes to a variety of important wildlife species.
What I happily observed on my leisurely walk with the kiddos, however, was the vastly improved public access for the low impact recreation Woodard Bay invites. A lovely new bike shelter situated at the start of the trail allows bikers to safely secure their rides before beginning a hike. While I chose one of our recent, almost 70 degree days for my walk on Woodard Bay, the new learning shelter near the water, with its gleaming wooden picnic tables and sturdy metal roof, made me think a drizzly day hike or field trip would be just fine. Upgraded walkways and clustered benches encourage both wandering around and sitting to enjoy the spectacular views.
There are three different trails available to hike in the park and two of them are upland trails that afford the occasional peek at a heron or an eagle as well as overlooking views of the bay itself. I rarely get to hike on those trails however, because my kids are usually in a hurry to walk to the end of the paved trail and get to the shore. About that paved trail – it always feels a little longer than I remembered – so if you are bringing small children who tire easily, I suggest a sturdy stroller or, even better, a backpack.
The real draw of Woodard Bay, for my family at least, is the water itself. With new benches and tables situated near the shoreline for adult supervision, the rocky shore and sandy beach serve as the best kind of playground. Some of my children spent the entire two hour visit methodically turning over large rocks at the water’s edge and repeatedly squealing with delight as crabs of all sizes scuttled out. My 10-year-old daughter and her friend swam in the bay – because it was 68 degrees out and that’s swimming weather here in the Pacific Northwest. My parents, who also came along for the walk, and I sat at new tables and gushed about the weather while admiring special shells and rocks brought to us for inspection.
Woodard Bay has changed, for the better, and somehow, has still managed to stay exactly the same. And, while the walk back to the car was a little chilly and damp, I think we all agreed it was worth it.
Thrifty Thurston highlights inexpensive family fun in Thurston County. The weekly series focuses on family-friendly activities throughout our community. If you have a suggestion for a post, send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more events and to learn what’s happening in Olympia and the surrounding area, click here.