PORT ANGELES — Public access to the new beaches on the east side of the Elwha River mouth is expected to be available by the summer of 2018.
Coastal Watershed Institute has been awarded a $1 million National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Grant to help purchase a property, restore wetlands and establish public access in the area.
The only present public access to the 80 to 100 acres of beaches at the mouth of the Elwha River is on the west bank of the river, which is across private property and where parking and public services are very limited.
“The only Sani-Can, which services up to hundreds of people a day, is sponsored by the Olympic Peninsula Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation,” said Anne Shaffer, executive director and lead scientist for the Institute.
The east side of the river delta, where the more extensive beaches have grown, is almost entirely within Lower Elwha Klallam tribal land.
The tribe does not currently allow public access to the beaches through its land.
The Institute has not announced the exact site where new public access and parking will be located for the Beach Lake Acquisition and Restoration Project because such access is not available now.
The upland site land is currently privately owned and, once opened, will provide public access to state-owned beaches located east of the river mouth, Michel said.
The beaches at the project site will be softened by Elwha River silt from the removal of the Glines Canyon and Elwha dams.
Significant armoring along the shoreline at the project site is preventing beach-building sediment from accumulating, Shaffer said.
“This project will remove the rock and allow the beach to heal with dam removal sediment.”
The Institute has been focused on restoring the Elwha nearshore for more than a decade and has been working on this specific project for a year to negotiate and establish partnerships with the local landowner and others, Michel said.
Anticipated cost: $2 million
The anticipated final cost of the project will be about $2 million, Michel said.
In addition to the $1 million grant, the project received in December a $484,750 grant from the Recreation and Conservation Office, the Washington State Salmon Recovery Funding Board and the Puget Sound Partnership's Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Fund.
The Institute is awaiting results from other grant applications to fully fund all elements of the restoration project, he said.
Michel said there are also in-kind agreements with Build Green of Clallam County and the North Peninsula Building Association that will help offset part of the remaining $514,250 cost of the project.
The project will create a parking lot for 15 to 20 cars, add a pit toilet or sewer-system-hooked-up restrooms and establish an access trail to the beaches on the east side of the Elwha River.
The Beach Lake project also will protect and restore coastal wetlands adjacent to the Elwha River delta, he said.
Among the project goals is the removal of remnants of bank armoring — giant boulders — and 10 structures, a tennis court, paved roads, two septic systems and livestock from sensitive wetland buffers.
The public access project has received support from U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe, Clallam County, North Olympic Land Trust, Built Green of Clallam County, Olympic Peninsula Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Olympic Peninsula Audubon Society, Lighthawk, Ecotrust and North Olympic Peninsula Lead Entity for Salmon.
Funding support for the development of the project was provided in part by the Rose Foundation, Puget Soundkeeper Alliance, Seattle Foundation, Hayes Foundation and private donations to the Institute.