By Joan Laffaw Storkman
by Claudia Casebolt
We scrimped and saved when we were young and in the mid 1980’s it was our dream come true when we were able to buy waterfront. We could only afford a place fairly deep in Burley Lagoon where there was lots of MUD. We had a good view of the water through a few huge fir trees and we left the beach wild and natural.
It’s such a peaceful place. In June the beach grasses are long and green and wild pink roses grow all along the beach. There’s also one wild volunteer pear tree. Long before we were here someone, man or bird, must have dropped a seed. You could never call that pear "Delicious" but we have named it the Burley Pear.
Along our beach there is a small, barely visible, point that I call Doubtful Point and there sits a bench for the enjoyment of any kayakers or canoers who pass by. In some summers we go canoeing almost every evening.
But mostly we’ve grown to love the mud. It is teaming with wildlife. Once or twice a year our whole family will venture out onto it. It will be warm and the kids, now with kids of their own, will make mud pies and get extremely dirty. Watching the tide carefully, we’ll usually walk across the lagoon and south to the small island in the middle. That summer of 1986 when we first bought our house my husband with our 5 year old son canoed and camped out on that island and our son christened it Treasure Island. I don’t know what other people call it but it will always be Treasure Island to us.
Burley Lagoon nurtures us and keeps us whole.
Burley Lagoon is tucked away, a hidden gem nestled in
the backwaters of Gig Harbor. My parents moved our family from the
city to live in its quiet seclusion just past the Purdy Bridge when
I was 8 years old. We lived in a log house on lagoon’s salt-fragrant
shores, and only a few neighboring homes dotted the area. Each day
I’d watch the tidewaters creep in and out of the shallow basin,
offering me a continually changing view, wonder, and adventure.
Living on the shores of this unique estuary built a medley of special memories. I recall running and sliding on the silky seaweed, making my way to Burley Creek. The water’s long fingers meandered along the estuary bed at low tide and I’d stand, my legs and feet tickled by the sole and flounder crowded there, awaiting the incoming tide. At times I’d venture to the island to visit the lone tree, stopping to examine the tide pools and wonders on the way. The crabs, barnacles, sea anemones, sea stars, sand dollars, eagles, ducks, crows, seagulls, heron and the abundant marine life were my companions and my teachers. Cautious not to get stranded by the perseverance of the incoming tide, I’d slip-slide back home with the water lapping at my heels, my mud stained legs stinky with the scent of the bay.
We didn’t have a boat but, regardless, I decided to build waterskis in shop class during my high school freshman year. I could only imagine skimming across the surface of the glassy water, but I somehow believed if I built them, I would ski. The closest neighbor, seeing my building efforts on a visit, offered to pull me behind his small boat with a 15 horsepower motor and an old rope. After that ride, I was hooked. I decided to build a boat of my own and worked to earn an 18 horse power Johnson motor. During college, I built a second boat, a ski boat, and purchased a 50 horsepower outboard. The carpentry skills I developed, the fun I had designing, and the satisfaction I experienced reinforced my interest in engineering. I do believe I owe some credit to Burley Lagoon and its enticing waters for my career.
After my childhood, I lived away from the lagoon for about ten years, but its unique charms called me back to its shores. This time I built a house and family rather than skis and a boat. Today I still greet the tide daily and can see the island from our bayside yard. When the lagoon fills on a summer day, you just might see an old guy, gray hair in the wind, out on his handmade ski still cutting across the water of his favorite place to be.
Don, east shore
These two pictures are representative of Before and After
conditions of shellfish beds in Burley Lagoon.
1. Jerry Yamashita shellfish beds circa 2011 off Purdy Creek.
A natural covering of oysters atop the sediment.
2. Rolled up anti-predator (birds, crabs, etc.) netting and thousands of “stressed manilla clams” laying atop the sediment due to summer toxic algae bloom.
Since 2012, when the largest shellfish company on the West Coast began leasing the Lagoon’s tidelands, disruptive changes have occurred in the waters and on the shellfish beds.
In 2019 (see Protect Our Shoreline 9-18-2019) and 2020, two distinct and different toxic algae blooms have affected this estuary. As large swaths of anti-predator nets have replaced natural shellfish beds (all along the sandspit, adjacent shorelines off Purdy Creek, and around the natural island), when toxic algae blooms decay and settle onto the nets and substrate, clams become “stressed”, rise to the surface, and remain in this condition until sediment conditions improve lasting for weeks and last summer for months.
Not only is this “beach odor” compounded by the decay, but oftentimes it becomes a health hazard. Nets also need to be removed and/or rolled up so “nature can run its course” and flush toxic bacteria out the substrate and off the beach surface.
Artificial barriers, overseeding, longer lower tide cycles, low flushing ability, low oxygen levels, and higher temperatures all contribute to the toxic algae bloom’s effects on shellfish farming, salmon sustainability and a healthy environment for eelgrass allowing the once natural ecosystem continue to deteriorate.
I often wonder at the instinct that propels salmon to swim,
sometimes, hundreds of miles from the ocean, to return to spawn in
their natal rivers and creeks. Once returned, they spawn, then
die, and the salmon life cycle starts over once again.
Here in Burley Lagoon, when the air turned crisp and the leaves turned colors, crowds of salmon used to return to spawn in Purdy Creek and Burley Creek. The salmon would stay in Burley Lagoon, feeding until nature called them back to the creeks.
While the salmon were swimming and feeding in the Lagoon, what a show they would put on, leaping out of the water and, with a big twist, slapping back down! We would try to determine the size of each salmon by the rings and ripples the salmon left on the water’s surface. Then nature called, and they swam back to Purdy Creek and Burley Creek, starting the salmon life cycle once again.
Now in Burley Lagoon, we see plastic, predator-exclusion nets spread out on the tidelands for commercial shellfish aquaculture operations. What appear to have been the natural migrating passages for spawning salmon to Purdy and Burley Creeks have plastic, predator-exclusion nets stretched over their substrate.
Who can tell us that these plastic nets are not interrupting the return of the spawning salmon? The cycle of life for returning, spawning salmon appears to be broken in Purdy Creek and Burley Creek. Why are we allowing this to happen? What will it take to bring the salmon back?
Who can answer this question?
Janey, Burley Lagoon resident
Josephine Fuller Knapp
Two of my ancestors made homestead claims on Burley Lagoon in
1884. My family has been blessed to live here ever since. We have
enjoyed the beauty, the nature, the recreation, and the hometown
feel of Burley Lagoon with each passing generation.
Before there were roads, bridges, or ferries, my family rowed all the way between Burley Lagoon and Tacoma to get supplies, see a doctor, or visit friends. Neighbors greeted weary travelers with a fire on the beach, a pot of beans, a loaf of bread, and a cup of hot coffee. My great grandmother reported the tall firs, cedars, and maple trees, along with abundant game, and wild shellfish at her father’s homestead on Burley Lagoon. She wrote, “With a shake, one could get a bucket of clams in a few minutes.”
We believe that the Burley Lagoon is a unique and beautiful place. It is here to be enjoyed by the residents (whether brand new, or from pioneer stock). It should be protected for the wildlife, the people who live and play here, and for the timeless beauty it provides. We have watched shellfish companies come and go on the shores of Burley Lagoon. All we ask is that the industrial shellfish companies respect those of us (people, plants, and animals) who live and play here. We ask that that they share the lagoon with the rest of us, and not put profits ahead of all the other valuable parts of our bay.
-Wendy (5th generation resident on the shores of Burley Lagoon)