Wilcox Reach: The River at its Most Dynamic

In November, the Land Trust acquired 9.86 acres and one-third mile of salmon-producing shoreline at the confluence of the Nisqually River and Toboton Creek. And we were hustling to remove a small log cabin before winter floods washed it into the river.

The property is located in the Wilcox Reach, one of the most dynamic stretches of the Nisqually River. Two years ago, just upstream, the river blasted away a hundred horizontal feet of riverbank in a matter of months and destroyed a family home.

Toboton Creek contains extensive coho salmon habitat, and the Nisqually Salmon Recovery Program rates the Wilcox Reach high priority for protection of Chinook salmon habitat and highest priority for protection of steelhead trout habitat. Both Chinook and steelhead are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Save for the cabin, the property is undeveloped and includes wetlands and second-growth conifer and deciduous forest.The purchase was ranked to be funded through a 2017 Salmon Recovery Board grant. However, salmon recovery funds are bottled up in the 2017-2019 capital budget, which the state legislature still has not passed. The Land Trust had to scramble to deploy internal cash reserves ahead of the oncoming winter.

“The Nisqually River won’t wait for the legislature,” said Executive Director Joe Kane. In recent winters the river has chipped away at the property and flooded around the cabin. Last winter a cedar log stove in the front porch. “If we don’t get that cabin out now,” Kane said, “the river will surely take it this winter. That would be a real mess.”

Judy Arp and her husband, Sammy, purchased the property 21 years ago, camped there with their kids, and built the cabin, which includes a stately granite fireplace erected by Sammy, a renowned stonemason.

“Our favorite activity was just to sit by the river and watch the wildlife,” Judy said during a visit to the Land Trust office. “We saw bears, salmon, beautiful herds of elk and deer. It was a very special place for us.” But Sammy passed away two years ago, and the Arp children grew up and moved north. “It’s time for this land to go back to what it was,” she said.

The cabin cannot be moved intact. We hope to re-purpose the timbers and granite, which remain in good condition. And the site’s ready access to Toboton Creek makes it a good location for environmental education.