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Visitors rave over new boardwalk at Nisqually Wildlife Refuge

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U.S. Department of the Interior
Visitors on the new boardwalk at the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge experience the estuary in a way nobody has since the early 1900s.

For over a hundred years, nobody saw the mouth of the Nisqually River in its original, natural state. Now, thanks to a new, mile-long boardwalk and the removal of the dikes that fenced the water out, you can experience the estuary in a way that no living person ever has.The $2.8 million over-water structure drew raves from some 200 visitors who attended Monday's opening day ceremonies. Chuck Benefeil of Steilacoom told The Olympian:

"This is something you don't get to see that often. I love the way it changes with the tides."

Largest estuary restoration in the Northwest

You can wind your way out onto the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge through 762 acres thanks to a $13 million estuary restoration project completed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nisqually Tribe in 2009. The restoration, the largest of its kind north of San Francisco Bay, returns nearly a square mile of habitat to dozens of fish and wildlife species, including Puget Sound Chinook Salmon, a threatened species.

David Troutt, director of natural resources for the Nisqually Tribe told The Olympian the boardwalk doesn't help the fish, but it could build more public support for their recovery when people experience the changing tides and see fish and wildlife firsthand:

“To be out in the estuary and see the tidal exchange, you feel that the fish will be here,” Troutt said, adding that pink and chum salmon should start showing up in the next month.

What you'll see

Visitors to the refuge have spotted a plethora of winter birds this year--beyond the standby bald eagles and great blue herons: American wigeons, green wing teal, dunlin, yellowlegs and northern pintails.

On the new boardwalk, you'll find features not available on the old dike trail . Your walk starts with a viewing tower that provides a birds-eye view over the estuary. There's a photo blind, with slots cut low for kids and people in wheelchairs. At the end of a pleasant meander you'll come to an octagonal viewing platform, with 360-degree views of Puget Sound, Mount Rainer, the Olympics, the Tacoma Narrows Bridge and the mouth of McCallister Creek.

For a map to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, click here.