Sunday, February 13, 2011

Crescent Beach, Orcas Island: Madrones, Aspen, Midens and Geology

Just east of the village of Eastsound on Orcas Island Crescent Beach Road drives across the upper part of Crescent Beach. The road was constructed on the upper beach berm such that during high tides with south wind, sand, gravel and woody debris is washed onto the road. I had some extra time on the island last week before getting to the ferry landing in Olga for the trip back to Anacortes. So I took a walk on the beach to check out a very fine group of Pacific madrones.

Pacific madrone, Crescent Beach, Orcas Island

Madrones are a common shoreline bluff tree and are common on droughty sites; places where sun will be maintained as the madrones don't get shaded out by other tress Their truncks of orange red and growth habit are an appealing feature of the tree. Madrones have been reported in decline, but this stand appears exceptionally healthy. In approaching the madrone stand from the beach I observed that the madrones are growing out of a fairly large midden.

Midden of shells and black soil

Perhaps the rich miden soil explains the apparent health and bulk of these trees. It makes sense that a large midden would be located at this site. The beach would be an ideal location for pulling large canoes up onto the berm and the tide flats are even today used as shell fish growing areas. The Lummi Tribe owns a parcel of land near here on the peninsula shore between Crescent Beach and Eastsound that they still use for gatherings to harvest food from the shoreline.

Behind the beach berm capped by the road is a forest and wetland parcel owned by the San Juan Land Trust. There are a few parking areas for trails through the forest. A noteworthy stand of aspen are growing adjacent to the road within the wet land area behind the beach berm as well as a black hawthorn, small tree that always rudely surprises me when bump into a thicket.

Aspen next to Crescent Beach Road on San Juan Trust Land 

Stem of a black hawthorn

Black hawthorn

Crescent Beach is a pleasant spot to relax on a sunny day. The beach counties along the base of a feeder bluff to the southeast. The feeder bluff erodes from wave action and supplies the sediment that maintains the beach. The bluff is a nearly vertical 50-foot high bluff consisting of glacial marine drift. These soils were deposited near the end of the last glacial period by melting glacial ice floating on sea water approximately 13,000 years ago. The local elevation was lower due to the mass of glacial ice which had pushed down the local land surface below sea level.

The beach in front of the bluff is not public and numerous signs asking beach walkers to respect private property are posted starting at the stand of madrone trees. I will withhold my opinions regarding private ownership of tideland, but simply note that this particular tideland was deeded by Washington State to the current owners in 1912. 

There used to be a road that ran along the top of the bluff. Apparently public ownership of that road was given away as the parcel maps do not show public ownership or right-of-way along the crest of the bluff. The road was abandoned due to erosion decades ago. I worked on a site that had an old culvert under the old road that was causing slope erosion and shoreline damage. We came up with a very nice solution that protected the beach and upland. 

Feeder bluff for Crescent Beach with Mount Constitution in the background

1 comment:

Orcas Island Lance said...

So nice to run across this posting. Living on Orcas Island, I enjoy learning a little bit more about our land.