By Jeff Chew
Peninsula Daily News
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DUNGENESS -- The North Olympic Peninsula's newest publicly accessible recreational area might be easily overlooked from the junction of Sequim-Dungeness Way and Anderson Road.
With a narrow dirt and rock entry road off Anderson Road to a rough-rocked parking area, the 148-acre Lower Dungeness Unit that the state Department of Fish and Wildlife owns and manages features a nondescript foot path from the parking lot through former pasture.
The path leads to wet upland meadows and marsh wetlands at the southern shores of Dungeness Bay.
The site is just west of the mouth of Dungeness River, which feeds into the bay.
It is a wide swath of public access property between larger private tracts, offering expansive views of waterfowl habitat and across the bay to Dungeness Spit, the historic lighthouse near its tip, and Cline Spit to the west.
To the south, the 1893 Old Dungeness Schoolhouse is visible through leafless trees.
While it is open to hikers and birdwatchers, Fish and Wildlife is primarily promoting the site as the first area open to the public for waterfowl hunting near the mouth of the river in more than 100 years.
"The public currently has very little access to quality waterfowl hunt locations in Clallam County," said Kyle Guzlas, a Fish and Wildlife regional wildlife biologist involved in management of the site.
"This is a great new hunting opportunity, and it's important that hunters follow the rules posted at the site so we can maintain this agreement with Dungeness Farms."
About 73 acres of conservation easement is owned by PCC Farmland Trust, which leases the Delta Farm to Nash's Organic Produce.
The trust is part of the Seattle-area PCC Natural Markets chain, which has acquired and preserved three other farms in Washington.
The 97-acre farm was the first to be saved by donors of the PCC Farmland Trust.
In 2002, the Department of Fish and Wildlife purchased part of the Delta Farm's wetlands as well as an organic agricultural conservation easement on the rest of the farm.
Fish and Wildlife in October opened the Lower Dungeness Unit to public waterfowl hunting under a three-year agreement with Dungeness Farms Inc.
"What is new is we got a new management agreement with Dungeness Farms, a private duck club that owns all the property at the mouth of the river," Guzlas said.
Located on the west side of the Dungeness River off of East Anderson Road north of Sequim, the 140-acre unit will be open for waterfowl hunting Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays throughout the hunting season.
Signs are posted outlining the rules for hunting in the area, said Guzlas.
As part of that agreement, Fish and Wildlife granted exclusive public access to Dungeness Farms to a parcel off Three Crabs Road.
That site will no longer be open to public access.
Much of the land was formerly managed by the North Olympic Land Trust, which sold it to Fish and Wildlife to raise money to acquire the development rights on farmland in the area known for its rich soils in the fertile Dungeness River delta, said land trust Executive Director Greg Good.
The Port Angeles-based land trust now manages more than 400 acres of protected farmland in Clallam County.
Fish and Wildlife purchased the property to protect and restore the natural lower floodplain riverine system and forested wetland.
Eagles, songbirds, upland birds, deer, small mammals, reptiles and amphibians can be found on the site.
The land drains into the Lower Dungeness River, home to six salmon species, and hosts the water source of Meadowbrook Creek.
Bob Boekelheide, Dungeness River Audubon Center director, said the area is prime bird-watching habitat, even though it has become more inhabited with homes and the human species.
He said those who walk the site should tread lightly and quietly as not to disturb birds and wildlife.
"I guess one of our concerns is that it not get loved to death," said Boekelheide, who lives in the area.
Sequim-Dungeness Valley Editor Jeff Chew can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.