Washington

Chehalis River

Completing a critical wetland reserve, three decades in the making

In 1989, the Washington Department of Natural Resources created the Chehalis River Surge Plain Natural Area Preserve to protect this important ecosystem. Yet, for almost 30 years, the preserve has been incomplete, with nearly 1,500 acres at the heart of it privately owned and unprotected. This changed when WRC helped conserve 1,469 acres of land in partnership with WDNR and Weyerhaeuser, completing the Natural Area Preserve.
In 1989, the Washington Department of Natural Resources created the Chehalis River Surge Plain Natural Area Preserve to protect this important ecosystem. Yet, for almost 30 years, the preserve has been incomplete, with nearly 1,500 acres at the heart of it privately owned and unprotected. This changed when WRC helped conserve 1,469 acres of land in partnership with WDNR and Weyerhaeuser, completing the Natural Area Preserve.
Photography | Nick Hall
Nearly 80 species of birds have been observed within the Chehalis River Surge Plain, including osprey, bald eagle, belted kingfisher, black-headed grosbeak (pictured), pileated woodpecker and common merganser. All of them will benefit from WRC's efforts, which will ensure the long-term protection of crucial forest and wetland habitat.
Nearly 80 species of birds have been observed within the Chehalis River Surge Plain, including osprey, bald eagle, belted kingfisher, black-headed grosbeak (pictured), pileated woodpecker and common merganser. All of them will benefit from WRC's efforts, which will ensure the long-term protection of crucial forest and wetland habitat.
Photography | Kitchin & Hurst / Leeson Photo
WRC's efforts on the Chehalis have conserved eight miles of river frontage, including exceptional water-trail systems through Peel’s Slough, Blue Slough and Preachers Slough. These sloughs and channels provide rich habitat for fish and wildlife and are crucial to the healthy functioning of the Chehalis River, from its mouth to its headwaters.
WRC's efforts on the Chehalis have conserved eight miles of river frontage, including exceptional water-trail systems through Peel’s Slough, Blue Slough and Preachers Slough. These sloughs and channels provide rich habitat for fish and wildlife and are crucial to the healthy functioning of the Chehalis River, from its mouth to its headwaters.
Photography | Nick Hall
The Chehalis River surge plain is home to a wealth of fish and wildlife, including spring and fall Chinook, chum salmon, steelhead, river otter, beaver and the endemic Olympic mudminnow. It is especially important for coho salmon (pictured).
The Chehalis River surge plain is home to a wealth of fish and wildlife, including spring and fall Chinook, chum salmon, steelhead, river otter, beaver and the endemic Olympic mudminnow. It is especially important for coho salmon (pictured).
Western Rivers Conservancy's efforts to conserve 1,469 acres of the Chehalis River surge plain will enhance recreational and educational activities within the park, which is managed by Washington Department of Natural Resources.
Western Rivers Conservancy's efforts to conserve 1,469 acres of the Chehalis River surge plain will enhance recreational and educational activities within the park, which is managed by Washington Department of Natural Resources.
Photography | Nick Hall
In addition to protecting eight miles of river and side-channel frontage, WRC's efforts facilitated conservation of extensive forest habitat, including stands Sitka spruce and western red cedar more than 200 years old. Here, children play at the base of an old-growth Sitka spruce, inside the park boundaries.
In addition to protecting eight miles of river and side-channel frontage, WRC's efforts facilitated conservation of extensive forest habitat, including stands Sitka spruce and western red cedar more than 200 years old. Here, children play at the base of an old-growth Sitka spruce, inside the park boundaries.
Photography | Nick Hall
Washington's Chehalis River Surge Plain is the largest, healthiest tidal surge plain in the state. Much of it is protected within a Natural Area Preserve, managed by Washington Department of Natural Resources. Western Rivers Conservancy helped conserve nearly all of the remaining unprotected lands within the surge plain by transferring them to WDNR for permanent protection.
Washington's Chehalis River Surge Plain is the largest, healthiest tidal surge plain in the state. Much of it is protected within a Natural Area Preserve, managed by Washington Department of Natural Resources. Western Rivers Conservancy helped conserve nearly all of the remaining unprotected lands within the surge plain by transferring them to WDNR for permanent protection.
Photography | Nick Hall
Bird's eye view of a kayaker paddling through a slough inside the Chehalis River Surge Plain Natural Area Preserve.
Bird's eye view of a kayaker paddling through a slough inside the Chehalis River Surge Plain Natural Area Preserve.
Photography | Nick Hall
The forested wetlands of the Chehalis River Surge Plain support diverse wildlife, including black bear, deer, beaver, river otter (pictured) and a wide range of resident and migratory bird species. WRC's efforts have increased the amount of protected habitat within the surge plain by nearly 50 percent.
The forested wetlands of the Chehalis River Surge Plain support diverse wildlife, including black bear, deer, beaver, river otter (pictured) and a wide range of resident and migratory bird species. WRC's efforts have increased the amount of protected habitat within the surge plain by nearly 50 percent.
Photography | Kitchin & Hurst / Leeson Photo
The surge plain is open to the public, and canoeing and kayaking are popular activities. WRC's efforts will improve recreational access for both paddlers and hikers alike.
The surge plain is open to the public, and canoeing and kayaking are popular activities. WRC's efforts will improve recreational access for both paddlers and hikers alike.
Photography | Nick Hall

The Chehalis River drains a vast area of western Washington, forming the largest river basin in the state, after the Columbia. Fed by rivers and streams that flow from the Cascade foothills, the Willapa Hills, glacial prairies of the northeast and the Olympic Mountains, the Chehalis eventually drains into Grays Harbor on the Pacific, where it forms the largest, highest-quality tidal surge plain in Washington. Here, where salt water from the Pacific surges inland with the tide to meet the freshwater of the Chehalis River, a diverse and highly productive wetland ecosystem is formed.

In the Chehalis River Surge Plain, sheltered sloughs provide crucial habitat for a wealth of fish and wildlife, including spring and fall Chinook, coho, chum salmon, steelhead, river otter, beaver and the endemic Olympic mudminnow. Dense stands of Sitka spruce and western red cedar, draped with mosses and lichens, are home to bald eagle, osprey and other bird life. All year long, hikers and paddlers visit the area to explore the tidal channels by foot, canoe and kayak.

There are only four other wetlands of this type in Washington, all of which are substantially smaller and in poorer ecological condition than the Chehalis River Surge Plain. In 1989, the Washington Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) created the Chehalis River Surge Plain Natural Area Preserve to protect this important ecosystem. Yet, for almost 30 years, the preserve was incomplete, with nearly 1,500 acres at the heart of it privately owned and unprotected.

In 2018, WRC worked in partnership with the Weyerhaeuser Company, which owned the parcels, to transfer 1,469 acres of former timberlands to WDNR for inclusion and protection within the natural area preserve. Our efforts completed the preserve and will ensure the lasting integrity of this extraordinary place.

This fruitful partnership will benefit the river, its wildlife and the thousands of people who visit each year by completing WDNR’s original vision for the preserve and eliminating the threats of development and timber harvest. The project conserved over six miles of river frontage, including exceptional water-trail systems through Peel’s Slough, Blue Slough and Preachers Slough. Canoe and water trails will soon be joined to upland parcels, and both scientific and educational activities will be enhanced. Most importantly, with the lands now under WDNR ownership, the Chehalis River Surge Plain is protected not in fragments, but in its entirety.

Funding for the Chehalis River Project was made possible through generous contributions from multiple sources, including the Bullitt Foundation, the Norcliffe Foundation, the Horizons Foundation and with the generous support of many additional individuals, foundations and businesses.

This project was also made possible through funding from the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

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