Although I’ve lived in South Kitsap for almost two decades, and commuted via the nearby Southworth Ferry for one of them, I’d never had occasion to visit the Harper Estuary, although I certainly drove right by it innumerable times – it is unremarkable and unmarked for the unknowing passers-by. For those in the know, however, it is well-frequented, used by walkers, kayakers, and often simply “parkers” – people sitting in their cars and enjoying the seaside view momentarily. It is an informal, and unofficial, mini-park. Adjacent to the road overlying Harper Creek, the historic clinker bricks and other fill have created a decent parking area, access to the beach, and a rudimentary boat launch.
I’ve spoken to local residents, and they don’t necessarily dislike the brick fill – and don’t agree that it needs to be removed. I understand in part how they feel – brick red is beautiful in contrast to the deep green of the seawater. Old bricks are not without charm; we don’t automatically see them as debris or garbage and in fact, are very much integrated into this environment.
Obviously the bricks are harboring life – solid places of attachment for many intertidal organisms, including our common Acorn Barnacle (Balanus glandula) and Shield Limpets (Tectura scutum), along with other tiny marine snails, Mussels (Mytilus trossulus) and even a type of red alga descriptively called Turkish Washcloth (Mastocarpus papillatus). The bricks are also obviously breaking down; in some areas the bricks are broken but in large chunks, and in others the substrate is red and fine, telling a story of uneven weathering and erosion across the entire site. I have to wonder whether there is any substance in these bricks that is harmful to the environment.
I don’t believe what the bricks are made of is any part of the problem here, however. I think the problem is the unnatural filling of the estuarine area. I brought a small friend with me on a recent cool Sunday evening, and I tried to explain the situation to her: “It’s a place where they built a road, right on top of a creek where it was flowing into Puget Sound. They put a concrete pipe under the road so the water could still flow through, but it’s not enough room for all the water to flow properly. Salmon can’t use the creek the way they used to in the past. Habitat that is good for fish to lay their eggs on has been destroyed.” Before we explored, I tried to explain the plan for the restoration, and I told her about the historic brick factory, and how bricks had been thrown in the water for decades. Even though the tide was high, we were easily able to see the large, long hill of bricks looming under the water’s surface near the culvert’s outflow to the Sound. “Too many bricks,” my young friend wrote in her field journal, “but the baby salmon are getting help.”