Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve


Every day Dawn - Dusk


Photo Credit: Bud Hardwick
The Point Whitehorn Marine Reserve is part of the effort to protect the habitat of ecologically critical herring spawning grounds. These small fish and their once abundant egg crops are one of the fundamental building blocks of the natural food chain in the surrounding Salish Sea. A trail through a 50 acre forest and wetland preserve allows the public to walk through a regenerating coastal forest, experience panoramic island views, and access an isolated segment of public beach located beneath dramatic vertical cliffs of sand and gravel.

Most road approaches to the preserve provide ample views of the extensive farm and natural areas that exists in the Point Whitehorn area despite the proximity of residential and industrial developments. Beginning at the trailhead, the transition between field and forest is immediate. Within steps, the trail leaves a bright open exposure and enters into a shadowy world under a dense forest canopy. The tread wanders pleasantly through the forest, twisting and turning, providing accessible short wood bridges for the few muddy spots traversing the margins of small wetlands.

Along the forest trail, you might watch your step. Among the more than 80 species of plants that have been identified in the preserve, small interesting flowers can be seasonally abundant. They, like the frequently seen frogs and other amphibians, seem to thrive in the habitat rich mixture of wet and dry areas. The trail, turning as it nears the forest border, offers peek-a-boo views of farm land and solitary ancient trees that somehow survived centuries of natural and human activity. Small groves of trees planted as part of a native plant recovery project promise to accentuate the naturalness of this forest. Among the mature trees of the forest you’ll find the expected assortment of hemlock, Douglas fir, and red cedar. But of special interest you’ll also find examples of mature Sitka spruce trees. This conifer once flourished in a narrow coastal band along much of the Pacific Northwest coastline but is now seldom to be found. Overall the forest is still relatively young, with a high percentage of deciduous shrubs and trees allowing the winter light to dapple the forest floor with pools of brightness. In summer, especially on a hot day, the cool moist retreat can be well appreciated.

As the trail nears the bluff above the shoreline attractive and peaceful openings appear. A seat and interpretive sign encourage visitors to linger while picking out distant islands and mountains of the Salish Sea. Various watercraft pass this way including kayaks, commercial fishermen, and specialized boats for the refineries and industrial operations not far to the south. Migrating and feeding flocks of birds can be seen flying and floating just offshore. Around you, the birdlife is exceptionally varied. Not only do you find forest dwellers but other species enjoying the special habitat provided by the bordering fields and beach.

The upper trail ends at the top of the bluff where a short but very steep section provides access to the shoreline. The extent of the beach beneath the towering bluffs is completely dependent on the tides. At very high tide, there may be no beach at all while lower tides provide a wide shoulder of sand and gravel. Dropping down to whatever beach is available; you once again are in the open with views expanding across the entire southern horizon.

A mostly gravel apron slopes down to the water from the base of the high vertical bluffs. Despite the height and steepness of these bluffs, the material is loose, mostly sand with beds of gravel and occasional rocks deposited by ancient rivers, glacial bulldozing and melting outwashes. The layers tell a fascinating and complicated history of what this point of land has endured during dramatic climate changes over thousands of years. Some of the sizeable boulders studding the beach are from distant locations. Torn from northern mountains and transported on rivers of ice they were dropped here during the glacial recessions. Among them are examples that are so geologically distinctive that their origins can be precisely located; some of them having come from the Fraser Canyon of British Columbia.

The beach provides a delightful walk but be mindful of the tides and the property boundaries. The park only extends a short distance to the northwest towards Point Whitehorn before meeting with private tidelands. Be respectful of posted signs. While investigating what the sea has delivered up for your inspection, check closely around rocks and clumps of seaweed. Various types of crustaceans and shellfish live beneath the gravely beach and in the sandy bottom not far from shore. Fish and even the occasional otter enjoy dining along this section of coast. To see the otters or possibly a marine mammal on the beach you’ll want to be at the upper trail viewpoints early in the day but remember that the park is only open between sunrise and sunset in order to allow the wildlife to attend to their survival needs.

While you’ll want to be careful to keep away from the steep and rock studded banks (the many rocks along the beach are an indication of the amount of rock-fall that occurs here) interesting signs of animal life can be observed from a distance. The tunnels of subterranean mammals appear to provide windows high on the bluff’s face. Some species of birds will use cliffs like these for perches or possibly nesting; look for the telltale white streaks from their droppings. The cliffs are not only dangerous for humans but smaller animals find it hazardous as well. If you look closely you may find evidence of small reptiles and amphibians that slid or fell down but couldn’t get back up. The larger wildlife doesn’t seem to have this problem. The deer and coyote tracks along the steep section of trail are evidence that they know where the trail is. To protect these and other wildlife, no pets are allowed in the preserve including both the trail and beach.

The natural seasonal variation in plants and wildlife offers a constantly changing experience for visitors to the preserve. Summertime can provide a short cool forest walk; spring is rich in new growth and flowering; and fall has colors and interesting fungi. Winter is the quietest time of year, yet during exceptionally clear days, the bluffs can protect you from the cold northerly winds and reflecting the golden low angled sun, surround you with welcomed and comforting warmth. While neither large nor providing much in the way of amenities, the Point Whitehorn Preserve Trail delivers a relaxing and enjoyable wander through a naturalistic setting of forest and shoreline.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 8/9/2010


I-5 Exit 266, go west on Grandview Road 8.5 miles. Follow the road as it makes a 90 degree turn to the left, south, around the Fire Station, and becomes Koehn Rd. Continue 0.5 miles to the signed entrance and trailhead parking lot on left just before the end of the farm fields and beginning of forest.


Walking Trails | Wheelchair Accessible


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