Wednesday, April 17, 2019


The pictures in this post are from just a little farther north than those in the previous post, since Irondale and Chimacum are just different ends of the same beach. While this is a frequent stop when I'm visiting the Port Townsend area, I just realized that I hadn't posted from here for more than ten years (the project itself only occurred in 2005-2006)!

Chimacum Beach: June 2008
Chimacum Beach: July 2006
Chimacum Beach: May 2006

Like at Irondale, the beach is almost entirely sand dredged up from the bay a very long time ago and I suspect most of the clam shell on this beach probably came along with that sand.

The back-barrier wetland, behind the spit that formed following the initial project, is pretty high so only the northern portion, near the mouth, gets much saltwater inundation. The central portion looks fresh. And the southernmost portion is more meadow than wetland.

Chimacum Creek exits from its beautiful little forested estuary at the very north end - I've been meaning for years to come back and explore with the kayak. Maybe this summer - when I'll have a little more time to play with!

Tuesday, April 16, 2019


Irondale and Chimacum are the southern and northern halves of the same beach, at least as I see it, and as they have before, they will generate two posts. Short posts - since I'm way behind and I promised myself I would write less this year.

Irondale is the site of a large 19th-century iron smelter which was finally cleaned up a few years ago after more than a century of abandonment.

Irondale (March 2013) (which in turn links further back)

The old brick beehive ovens continue to gradually erode onto the beach, some of the smelter slag still crops out as ledges on the beach, and a number of old stone foundations pieces were left behind. But the beach is doing great. This is an unusually sandy system (by Puget Sound standards) - the virtue of having been constructed a century ago with sand (and clam shell) dredged from the bottom of the bay. 

There's a gentle promontory in the central portion of the site where the berm inevitably wants to shift landward, but this is neither rapid nor a problem. A few of the logs that were placed along the berm have been undermined and as I recall there might be some sort of monitoring well(?) that may in time be exposed (if so, it will make a nice erosion reference).

The Irondale Beach continues seamlessly to the north, eventually becoming Chimacum Beach, where we'll go next.

Friday, April 12, 2019


If you're going to build a town on the water, it makes sense to find a piece of ground that's low enough to allow easy access to the town pier, yet high enough so the town doesn't flood every December. You want to pick a shoreline sheltered from the prevailing winds on a relatively protected bay.

Building over the water made sense in a 19th-century maritime community and the high bank lead to buildings that sort of spill over the bluff -- people and wagons approached on the upper floors, boats pulled up below. Stairs and hoists and gangways connected the two. Early Seattle - along the central waterfront - developed similarly. As did many towns in many other parts of the world.

In many places - Langley, Seattle - development eventually led to foundations being built to replace the piles or to the beach being filled behind a community seawall of some sort. Some of this happened here in Coupeville, too, but in some spots the beach remains, between and beneath the buildings.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Mutiny Bay

The low shoreline of Mutiny Bay once consisted of a complex series of wetlands, tidal inlets, and northerly-directed sand spits. But these low areas also lend themselves to development. Wetlands were diked and plumbed and tide-gated. Inlets were filled in. And small fishing resorts, and later residential beach communities, were built on the spits. But the whole place is still little more than a big bunch of shifting sand bars. And there is a lot of sand in this system, particularly compared to many other beaches on Puget Sound.

There is a boat ramp at the end of Robinson Road (Mutiny Bay: February 2010), but like some other ill-fated boat ramps on South Whidbey (Maxwelton: July 2016), the ramp is regularly, and increasingly, buried by the accreting beach. Clearing it has turned from minor maintenance to a major earthmoving operation. And that practice may have other affects on the beach - and even if it doesn't, nearby changes are quickly attributed to the most obvious culprit, which is the county guy in the backhoe. It's harder for people to see the bigger picture, which is a complex system undergoing big changes over relatively long periods of time.

There are other complications, too. There's an outfall (which substitutes for the historic tidal inlet) right next to the ramp that at times is completely buried, but at others flows vigorously, rearranging the beach in the same location as the boat ramp. And then half a mile downdrift (north), there's an old pier that may have continuing effects on the beach both up and down drift.

This would make a great example of the problems with building on sand spits, except for the fact that there are other even better examples nearby. Sunlight Beach comes to mind, but so do Maxwelton, Columbia Beach, and Bell's Beach!