Seeming at home with the flora and fauna along the river, young Isaac Smith would build rock cairns, skip stones, enjoy and picnic with his family, and before the day was through, if he had some birthday money, peruse the nature-themed items in the gift store.
Now, a bit of his passion for the Dungeness is living on.
A partnership between Isaac’s family, the Dungeness River Nature Center and Wild Birds Unlimited resulted in 14 new Vortex binoculars, bearing a patch that reads, “Isaac loved birdwatching, we hope you will too!”
Isaac, who grew up and spent all of his 12 years in Sequim, died in a vehicle accident in British Columbia while on vacation with his family in 2010.
“I’ve wanted to do something [to honor him] ever since, to come up with the right thing,” said his mother Teresa Smith, who now lives in Canada.
“This kind of unfolded in a beautiful way.”
Teresa often returns to Sequim to see friends, and on a visit in April stopped by Railroad Bridge Park and the expanded Dungeness River Nature Center at 1943 W. Hendrickson Road.
There, she inquired about memorializing Isaac with a bench or something similar.
“We used to do benches,” said Powell Jones, director of Dungeness River Nature Center and park manager of Railroad Bridge Park. “But about five or ten years ago we just decided we weren’t going to do memorial donations [for things like benches if] we don’t need them.”
Instead, Jones proposed a different kind of donation.
“At the time, our volunteers needed binoculars that … could focus close to have in our exhibit room and also take outside,” Jones said. “I suggested that. She loved it.”
Jones connected with Christie Lassen, co-owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, who talked with representatives at Vortex Optics about the donation.
“I said, ‘Yes, I’ll do whatever I can [to help],” Lassen said. “We’ve sold that company’s products and they’re always very accessible.”
In the meantime, Smith reached out to friends and family and in the process raised about $2,600. She said she was hoping to fund 10 pairs of binoculars, but the company lowered their cost and allowed for the purchase of 14 Vortex Diamondback 8×42 binoculars.
“I just told them what was going on and they were very helpful,” Lassen said. “They said, ‘This is important’ and gave me a good discount on [them].”
The binoculars are available at the River Center now to check out, Jones said. Visitors can used them to spot wildlife in the 75 wooded acres surrounding the center, or in the new exhibit room, which mimics the mountain, forest and estuary where birds and animals nest and feed.
“It feels like a beautiful and fitting way and place for Isaac’s memory to live on in the community where he lived his entire life,” Smith wrote about the donation to friends.
Isaac, who was involved with Dungeness Community Church Youth Group, Missoula Children’s Theatre, Aspire Academy, Olympic Peninsula Home Connections, and more, used to attend many of the youth summer camps and annual River Festival events hosted at Railroad Bridge Park, Smith said.
“He loved eagles; [those were] his absolute favorite,” Smith said. “He knew all the backyard birds.”
He’d also take part in the Wednesday Morning bird walks. Veteran birdwatchers would see Isaac’s interest and lower their adult-level tripods down to his height so he could try for a glimpse of birds.
“A bench would be fine for me [but] this tribute feels perfect,” Smith said. “There’s nothing more fitting.”
For more about the Dungeness River Center, visit dungenessrivercenter.org.