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The Black River is an easy paddle through a landscape largely undisturbed by humans. With a lowland lake as its main source, this river shows a dramatically different face from others in the state, most of which are fed by melting snow. The Black River meanders through a vast, largely impenetrable swamp before becoming a free-flowing river, ultimately merging gently with the Chehalis River southwest of Olympia. The land on either side of its banks boasts one of the most extensive riparian environments in Western Washington.
Near Rochester in Southwest Washington
In 1980, United States Fish and Wildlife Service identified the Black River as one of the most important fish and wildlife habitats in the state. It supports healthy runs of chum, chinook and coho salmon, as well as steelhead and cutthroat trout. The river is flanked by robust riparian vegetation, creating crucial habitat for an impressive variety of wildlife, including neotropical birds.
The Conservancy has assisted the US Fish and Wildlife Service with the protection of several parcels within the Black River unit of the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. This includes the Black Lake Preserve, which the Conservancy transferred to the Refuge. The Conservancy has also purchased key properties in the central stretch of the Black River. These parcels, combined with property owned by Thurston County Parks and Recreation, form a nearly two-mile corridor of protected river.
Black River Preserve Map
Click image to enlarge.
Rising from the soggy ground are mixed stands of red alder and distinctive Oregon ash, a handsome hardwood tree that grows to a height of 50 feet. Pacific ninebark, red-osier dogwood and willow form a dense thicket beneath the trees.
The thickets that make foot travel so difficult create safe homes for swamp dwellers such as river otters, beaver and mink. Stilt legged waders, including the American bittern and great blue heron, hunt silently in the calm water at the river's edge, while the yellow warbler, cedar waxwings and other native songbirds flit among the branches on the banks.
Black River is open year-round during daylight hours. A Class I river, it is accessible by canoe or kayak only. The preserve is dense shrub swamp with no trails; the best view is from the water.
There are two rough places to launch canoes and kayaks into the Black River Refuge, both at bridges that cross the river on 110th Avenue Southwest and 123rd Avenue Southwest. To reach them (from Olympia):