Leque Island has reopened to the public after a dramatic restoration project.
Eide Road is now open and leads to a new 17-car parking that features access a 0.75-mile new trail on the 15.5-foot high bern — about 5.5 feet higher than the previous dike. The berm is designed to survive a worst-case scenario event, such as a storm during a king tide. The trail features benches, interpretive signs and places to launch kayaks.
A new kayak boat launch was also added at the Davis Slough parking lot along Highway 532. Crews will next install interpretive and kiosk signs in the coming weeks.
Last month, workers breached the aging dike surrounding 250 acres between Stanwood and Camano Island, allowing seawater at high tide to move all the way to Highway 532. The Leque Island restoration project — 15 years in the making — creates new saltwater marshes that provide habitat for young salmon and other wildlife, including birds.
Loren Brokaw, restoration projects coordinator with the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, said officials will monitor the site for years to come to gather data on wildlife changes.
A mix of groups are helping to pay for the project, including Puget Sound Acquisition and Restoration Program, National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Fish and Wildlife’s Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program, Ducks Unlimited, The Nature Conservancy, Floodplains by Design, and state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Fish & Wildlife manages about 440 acres on Leque Island as part of the Skagit Wildlife Area. The property has been popular for walking, bird watching and waterfowl hunting, which will continue to be allowed at the site.
Bald eagles and great blue herons, as well as smaller birds common to the region, can be seen on the island.
The 250-acre project on the southern portion of the island now becomes a saltwater marsh, thought to become important habitat for young salmon and other wildlife, according to Fish & Wildlife.
The project, which has been in the works since 2004, had started and stopped several times to address concerns of landowners with nearby wells, hunters and other citizen groups. But officials completed studies and surveys to mitigate concerns.
Recently, state and tribal officials completed two other nearby estuary restoration projects: a 131-acre site on Fir Island west of Conway and a 107-acre site across the Stillaguamish River from Leque Island called “zis a ba.”
The agency expects the restoration project to allow new saltwater marsh habitat to develop naturally, similar to what is being seen at the Fir Island site where levees were removed in 2016.