DIANE URBANI DE LA PAZ: Safe passage for wildlife and humans

INSTEAD OF DREADING the soggy Sunday, I went diving into the rain. Yes, I made a plan to explore Port Townsend’s Quimper Wildlife Corridor at its most moist.

Did I ever need this rinse.

After weeks jammed with Zoom meetings and other computer work adding up to a ridiculous amount of screen time, the mere sight of my laptop drove me out of the house this past weekend.

The wildlife corridor, a 3-mile-plus stretch of lush land across the Quimper Peninsula’s tip, was ready to embrace me.

Slender trails thread through it like embroidery.

A few steps after entering the path off Howard and 35th streets, I found myself in another world.

I should mention here that ocean snorkeling is among my favorite ways to commune with nature.

Surrounded by fish and coral, the feeling of separateness dissolves.

This kind of diving is not on the horizon any time soon.

So it is wondrously fortunate that another avenue for communing awaits me, an 8-minute drive or 15-minute bicycle ride from my house.

Besides the Howard Street access, trailheads open up by the gate on North Jacob Miller Road; at the Elmira Street-Cook Avenue corner; at 49th and Hendricks, and at Willamette and Sapphire streets.

The Jefferson Land Trust began preserving the wildlife corridor in the mid-1990s, hiring Sarah Spaeth to lead the project.

She connected with property owners across some 250 acres, completing dozens of land transactions.

She and the Land Trust won federal grants, gathered community donations and set aside parcel after parcel.

Yet gaps remain.

“The corridor is still being established,” Spaeth told me.

She continues to work with connected landowners, seeking to protect the wood- and wetlands for wildlife, stormwater control — and humans needing refuge.

Walking through the forest, I listened to the quiet, breathing it in.

Soon I heard the swish of a wren’s feathers, comments from a frog and chirps as tiny as the kinglets who make them.

After beholding these, the Steller’s jays appeared gigantic.

I admit I coveted my first-ever glimpse of a pileated woodpecker, that big, red-crested keystone bird.

After many hours in the corridor, no such sighting. This helped me see there’s plenty else on which to feast my eyes: fern fronds hugging the trail, branches garlanded in moss, rose hips glistening like beads. Rain, dotting the leaves, makes music.

This is Mama Nature, showing off.

Everything’s close up, and one feels not like a visitor, but a community member.

“With the current state of the world, with the pandemic,” said Spaeth, “I have witnessed an incredible surge in people needing the solace of the outdoors,” from the North Cascades to Port Townsend’s own wildlife corridor. In Sequim, Port Angeles and points west, the counterpart is the Olympic Discovery Trail.

A map of the Quimper Wildlife Corridor and linked Cappy’s Trails can be found on the Land Trust website, saveland.org. So can information about efforts to protect and grow this in-town sanctuary.

It’s either that, Spaeth noted, or these parcels could be “developed.”

Back in the boom era circa 1890, the whole swath was platted for 50-by-100-foot lots. Now we’re in a different, weird boom cycle.

“Port Townsend is growing. And it’s going to continue to grow,” Spaeth said.

The time is now to secure forest land and trail buffers.

Once houses, offices or stores are built, the wildlife corridor — and the community — will suffer for the long term.

To paraphrase Sam Cooke’s “Wonderful World,” I don’t know much about hydrology.

I do know how I felt after my rainy-day walk through the deep-green leaves: at peace.


Diane Urbani de la Paz, a freelance journalist and former PDN features editor, lives in Port Townsend.

Her column appears in the PDN the first and third Wednesday every month. Her next column will be Nov. 4.

Reach her at [email protected]

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