Estuaries

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Estuaries, Pacific Northwest

An estuary is a body of water formed where rivers & streams mix with the salt water as they flow into the ocean. Estuaries and the areas surrounding them are places of wonder and beauty – places of peace and tranquility. There is protection from ocean waves, winds, & storms by the reefs, barrier islands, or fingers of land, mud, or sand that surround them.

They provide places for recreational activities, bird watching, and wildlife viewing and study. They are a natural resource that must be managed with careful consideration, for the mutual benefit of all who enjoy and depend on them. They benefit local economies, by boosting tourism, as many people come to view area birds & wildlife.

Countless species of birds, mammals, fish, and other wildlife depend on estuarine habitats as places to live, feed, & reproduce. Many marine species depend on these places at some stage of their development. Numerous species of fish rely on the sheltered waters of estuaries as protected spawning places. Because they are biologically productive, estuaries provide ideal areas for migratory birds to rest & feed during their long migrations.

Zeballos River Estuary, Estuaries
Zeballos River Estuary, Photo By Bud Logan

They also perform other valuable services. Water flowing from upstream areas carries sediments, nutrients & pollutants to estuaries. As the water flows through wetlands such as swamps and salt marshes, much of the sediments and pollutants are filtered out. This natural filtration process creates cleaner & clearer water, which benefits humans as well as marine life.

San Juan River Estuary
San Juan River Estuary, Photo By Bud Logan
The San Juan River splits into several tributaries that drain into Port San Juan. The reserve is divided into two sections, one lies along the north bank of the north segment of the San Juan River, while the other is in the flood plains to the southwest, along the most south segment of the San Juan River. The southern segment of the reserve is the larger of the two and has six tributaries. The small north section flows into the Gordan River Estuary, the southern section is the main river and it flows into Harris Cove, just above the bridge the cross at the outer edge of Port Renfrew. Harris Cove is a great place to go birding and just at the bridge, you can enter a great campground on San Juan Beach.

The cover growth is made up of small sections of coniferous trees along with a large deciduous forest of alder, cottonwood, and maple. Some species of plants here are quite rare, they include the angled bitter-cress, smith’s fairy bells, tooth-leaved monkey-flower, paintbrush owl clover, nodding semaphore-grass and pink fawn lilies, salmonberry, piggy-back plant,  red alder, current, and lady fern.

San Juan River Estuary
San Juan River Estuary, Photo By Bud Logan
The wildlife here in the San Juan River Estuary is incredible, you have a great chance of seeing black bears, deer, cougar, martins or raccoons along of numerous birds of all types. Looking out to sea, you could see gray whales, sea lions, and seals.

Kayakers love the area as there is so much to this huge estuary that you could kayak here for a week and still not see it all, there is a great campsite at the northern end of the estuary that is on the Pacheedaht Reserve and is right on the Pacheedaht Beach, this is one of the nicest campsites in the area.

Zeballos River Estuary
Zeballos River Estuary, Photo By Bud Logan
The Zeballos River Estuary is located at the end of Zeballos Inlet. There is a small summer run of steelhead along with coho and chinook in the fall in the estuary. You can catch some very nice resident cutthroat that can get pretty big. The winter run of steelhead is at this time closed to fishing.

At the estuary is the little town of Zeballos which was once one of Vancouver Island’s major gold producing areas, with over 1500 residents, Zeballos is now a small community of about 200 residents at the end of Zeballos Inlet. I lived and worked in Zeballos in the 70s and there were over 500 people there then, both transient loggers and residents. We even had a small theater where they showed movies in those days. It still is a very nice little community.

Zeballos River Estuary
Zeballos River Estuary, Photo By Bud Logan
There is a wildlife viewing platform located in the center of town and the estuary is easily accessed to view birds and sea life.

Fall, winter, and spring are the best viewing times for waterfowl, which include many kinds of seabirds and ducks. In the fall, back bears come to feed on the spawning salmon and many other birds and animals use the area throughout the year.

There are some great trails running through the estuary full of picnic tables and boardwalks and a great campsite for your stay.

Zeballos River Estuary
Zeballos River Estuary, Photo By Bud Logan
I first came to Zeballos in the early 70s as a logger and then returned in the 80s for 7 years as a forestry worker. I had many opportunities to fish and hike around this area and have always loved it here. Some do not like the winters here because of the wind and rain but those were some of the things that appealed to me. I have seen the Zeballos river running with so much water that it was hard to believe it was the same beautiful little river that you see in the summer months.

Leiner River Estuary
Leiner River Estuary, Photo By Bud Logan
The Leiner River Estuary has a small summer and winter run of steelhead and a great fall run of coho when the fall rains are heavy. There is plenty of other wildlife here also and you will see much of it. Look for the hummingbirds in the spring and summer, there are more here than anywhere in the world.

To fish the waters of Leiner river beyond the mouth and estuary requires you to bushwhack from the head bay road. The hike is worth it though as the fishing is good for native cut-throats and rainbows.

But if that is not enough to get you there then the wildlife will. You can expect to see black bears, blacktail deer, cougars ( maybe) and numerous birds and small animals, so come on over and see for yourself and bring your camera. The City of Tahsis maintains a small camp-site on the river, just outside of town, a popular day use spot, it has easy access to the river, swimming holes, and a small sandy beach.

To reach the estuary from Gold River, you take the head bay road (Tahsis Road) and follow it almost to Tahsis where you’ll see a camp-site sign on the left at the junction of the access road.

There are several great hiking trails that run alongside the Leiner river, one is called the bouldering trail and it runs through, under and over some enormous boulders and gives you some great views of the river as it tumbles down from the mountains.

Leiner River Estuary
Leiner River Estuary, Tahsis, Photo By Bud Logan
Then there is the Leiner River boardwalk trail that runs from the trail-head just outside of town right down to the salt flats. There are quite a few sections on the trail that are made up of raised board-walks with some awesome wildlife viewing spots built in.

The campsite is just up from here and has a nice trail that runs alongside the river where a profound amount of wild-flowers bloom, l love this trail.

Menzies Creek Estuary
Menzies Creek Estuary, Photo By Bud Logan
Menzies Creek, along with its estuary, is located in Menzies Bay. This is a very beautiful estuary – one that l have always enjoyed hiking around in. At low tide, you can really get around easily. There are huge clam & oyster beds, along with other creatures, like the mud flat crabs, that are everywhere!

The creek is beautiful, & slow running – a lovely shaded place, with big trees along its banks, almost prehistoric! It always gives me such a good feeling, to just sit and watch the birds & little creatures that abound here, moving about, under & in the giant trees.

There is a feeling of peace throughout the creek, estuary, and bay, now, that until a few years ago would have been impossible to find here. This was such a busy logging dump & booming ground. The noise level was one that you just couldn’t get away from!

Menzies Creek Estuary
Menzies Creek Estuary, Photo By Bud Logan
In 1951 Bloedel, Stewart & Welch merged with H.R. MacMillan to form MacMillan Bloedel Limited. The two companies had timber holdings in the same areas. Bloedel, Stewart, and Welch held many timber licenses and H.R. MacMillan was a driving force in new ways to log, and had the ambition to exceed. The merger in 1951 created a company that was able to thrive on the global scene. They had a big booming ground here in the Bay, back then.

MacMillan and Bloedel owned many logging operations on Vancouver Island, including the Menzies Bay Division. They had camps where over 300 men lived and worked. There was a big camp at Menzies Bay, and up the valley from the Bay, at Brewster Lake, there was another very large camp with many families living in it. Camp life was great! In the early years, a camp was more like a small town, with homes for families, schools for the children, and a camp store. Menzies Bay was quite an active place in its day!

There still is some logging going on that uses the Bay to boom, but not like in the old days. Now, there are great trails and places to picnic.

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