The National Wildlife Refuge at Dungeness Spit and the surrounding area is certainly a place of uncommon beauty. When I greet visitors to the refuge, I am reminded that the physical presence of the spit is far from the only “uncommon” aspect going on.
Often the first comment from visitors is in regard to the campground, “I’ve visited a number of other refuges but have never seen a campground!” It takes a while to explain that the campground is in a county recreational area adjoining the refuge. It’s a little more complicated to discuss that the county allows hunting on its land right next to the refuge.
Yet this hardly is the end to strange bureaucratic relationships here.
On the spit is a lighthouse which is, even now, officially an asset of the U.S. Coast Guard but is manned and maintained by the New Dungeness Light Station Association and is surrounded by a wildlife refuge.
Besides uncommon beauty, there also seems to be an uncommon ability for folks with very different purposes to work well together to maintain the refuge, the lighthouse and the recreational area.
The refuge originally was established to protect migratory waterfowl, specifically black brandts. Since then it has been noted that a vast number of birds use the sheltered shallows of Dungeness Bay as a wildlife cafeteria.
Because my vision never has been excellent, I never have become addicted to bird watching and have proved to be a poor counter of flying visitors to the spit. I can, however, usually recognize a passing bald eagle and have seen black-tailed deer, river otters, harbor seals, sea lions, an elephant seal, skunks, orcas, Dahl porpoises, a coyote and newts on the spit or in the surrounding waters.
I often have been asked, “Who built the spit?”
Visitors just seem to have a mental block when it comes to understanding that it is a natural (although rare) phenomenon. The bluffs that line the shore to the west of the spit provide a constant supply of material that combines with driftwood and tidal debris to create the spit.
People visit the spit from all over the world.
On some Sunday afternoons I listen to folks speaking German, French, Spanish, English, Chinese, Japanese and other languages that I don’t recognize. The people come, not just for the birds; I am convinced that every human has a compulsion to look, feel and often smell the things left by the tides on the beach. On the spit, the tides seem to roughly separate pebbles and stones by their size. Huge logs are tossed onto the spit during winter and spring storms and there is all matter of other stuff.
Beachcombing is an international sport.
The magic of the spit and its uncommon beauty bring these diverse folks together in a rare place where you can watch waves, birds and the other visitors. And if you walk far enough out on the spit, you can sit and discuss your problems or concerns with the God that you know. When I find myself afraid or concerned, I always can walk out there and sit and discuss things and find consolation or answers.
Perhaps an oystercatcher will wander past and lend me some advice.
And, in this uncommon corner of the world, you have the opportunity to help this place to remain a rare and cared-after treasure. By joining the Light Station Association, you help ensure that a valuable bit of our nation’s history remains and folks still can experience the feel of a lightkeeper’s life. Then too, the refuge depends on volunteers to meet and greet visitors to the spit and to help them understand the wonders that are here and to do other chores like bird counts. And finally you can join the Friends of the New Dungeness Refuge and help raise funds and awareness of this uncommon place of beauty.
Just e-mail me at the address below and I will gladly send you details.
Richard Olmer’s column appears in the Sequim Gazette the second and fourth Wednesdays of each month. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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