A Look Back to 1992: A River with a Plan of Its Own

by Kim Bredensteiner, Nisqually Land Trust Associate Director

When I think of the Middle Reach of the Nisqually River, just upstream of Yelm, I think power and mystery: steep, forested bluffs, wide gravel bars littered with cobbles, river islands that change shape year by year, hidden side channels and expansive floodplain.

The Nisqually Land Trust’s Thurston Ridge Protected Area includes 155 acres and two miles of shoreline along this part of the Nisqually. It protects high-quality salmon habitat, tall bluffs covered with Douglas-fir, side channels where industrious beaver make their homes, and young floodplain forests dominated by red alder and cottonwood.

Twenty-five years ago, landowners who’d planned to build cabins along this stretch of the river found that the river had other plans. The Nisqually migrates powerfully through this area, and what was once the main channel suddenly became a side-channel along the toe of the bluff.

Shortly thereafter, we acquired two properties in the Thurston Ridge Protected Area – one purchased, one donated. Both are in the river’s floodplain and are sometimes underwater during high flows. Over time it is likely that the river will move back across the floodplain and reoccupy that side-channel. Protecting these properties, and the rest of the Thurston Ridge Protected Area, ensures that this natural channel-migration process can happen.

Our thanks to the supporters who helped fund these early protection projects and the landowners who partnered with the Land Trust. Twenty-five years later, we see the fruits of those efforts in a natural, free-flowing river. And the Nisqually Land Trust continues to focus on protection of the Nisqually River floodplain.