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Mary E. Theler Wetlands Nature Preserve

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Spend a couple of hours or all day exploring a wildlife-rich estuary at the farthest reaches of fjordlike Hood Canal. Let eagles, osprey, herons, otters, and deer captivate you on this hike through grassy wetlands and along the Union River.

Among the many legacies that Sam and Mary Theler left the town of Belfair was land for a Masonic Lodge, church, and school. Out of the 70 acres deeded to the North Mason School District arose the Mary E. Theler Wetlands Nature Preserve. Serving an educational role for area school children, the wetlands have also become the area's prime hiking destination.

Start your visit by passing under the welcome arch and proceeding 0.25 mile to the Wetlands Project Center. If it's open, take time to visit to gain a better appreciation and understanding of the complex ecosystem you are about to explore. Children-heck, adults too-will appreciate the hands-on exhibits.

Several trails radiate from the Wetlands Project Center. All are pleasurable to walk and are wheelchair-accessible. The Sweetwater Creek and Alder Creek Trails make 0.25-mile loops. The South Tidal Marsh Trail extends 0.25 mile onto a boardwalk into Hood Canal. It's ideally positioned for spotting birds among the grasses and reeds and for viewing the Olympic Mountains in the background.

The Union River Estuary Trail offers the longest and best hike in the preserve. Along an old dike the trail elbows across open wetlands-tidal marsh on the left, freshwater marsh on the right. Through a tunnel of shrubs and along active farmland, the trail makes a beeline for the mouth of the Union River. In 0.5 mile you'll reach the river.

The trail then turns right (northeast) to hug this nutrient-rich waterway for one more mile. Just beyond the 1-mile mark is a small picnic area and restroom. At the trail's terminus are two short spurs-the one left leads to the river's edge for prime waterfowl and salmon-spawning viewing. Return to the Theler Wetlands at different times of the year to fully appreciate the life cycles at work in this ecologically important preserve.
Driving Directions:

From Bremerton head west on State Route 3 to Belfair. Proceed 1 mile beyond the junction with SR 300 to the Mary E. Theler Community Center (and sign for the nature trail), located on your right. Park at community center. The trailhead is located in the northwest corner of the parking lot. Privy available.

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Recent Trip Reports

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There are 10 trip reports for this hike. See all trip reports for this hike.
Mary E. Theler Wetlands Nature Preserve — May 31, 2013 — Joe Hendricks
Day hike
Features: Wildflowers blooming | Ripe berries
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A beautiful, easy half day hike. Here's 4 minutes of video highlights: http://youtu.be/INDHjmwMZKo ...
A beautiful, easy half day hike. Here's 4 minutes of video highlights: http://youtu.be/INDHjmwMZKo

Almost 5 miles if you do all 3 trails. Since my shoulder injury/surgery last month (happened on Mount Rainier during a Mountaineers training class!) my surgeon won't let me do any hikes where there is much risk of stumbling. At least not for another few weeks. So this was perfect.

Take the Alder/Cedar Swamp Trail first because the road it ends on connects you to the other trails, making a nice center loop for them all.

Saw muskrat, a baby rabbit and a million birds on the hike.

The Nootka roses were so fragrant you could smell them around the corner before seeing them! There are still some ripe salmonberries the birds have missed so far.
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Mary E. Theler Wetlands Nature Preserve — Mar 24, 2013 — Susan Elderkin
Day hike
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I had been eyeing the Theler Wetlands as a family-friendly day hike for some time. With friends visi...
I had been eyeing the Theler Wetlands as a family-friendly day hike for some time. With friends visiting from out-of-town who wanted a ferry ride, it seemed to be a good choice.

We had four kids ages 4-9 along on our hike along the Estuary Trail at the wetlands. They gave it a mixed review.

On the up-side, it was easy - this trail is on a flat, barrier-free crushed gravel surface, a great choice for strollers or wheelchairs. Benches along the way gave more than enough opportunities to rest and reflect. The kids enjoyed seeing various signs of wildlife, especially the red-winged black birds, blue heron and little snake (see photo). It was great to be outside and enjoying nature, and to teach them about what an estuary is.

But while the trail was easy, it was perhaps too straight and flat to keep all the kids interested. And I have to say that I'd thought it would be a bit more intimate and remote. The trail is actually at the nexus of two major highways (SR3 and SR304) on the edge of the town of Belfair. You could hear the highway traffic and see homes from the trail, which distracted from the experience.

A highlight of the hike was the outdoor art displayed at the education center (closed on this day). I've included a couple of photos below.

Will I hike this with my kids again? Perhaps in a different season. Spring has hardly sprung here, and I think more vegetation along the way would give way to a different feel.

Post-hike hit: Fountain Park at the Bremerton Ferry Terminal. It's a one-of-a-kind public space that is not to be missed by kids or adults. It's also a great way to spend some time while waiting for the ferry.
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Mary E. Theler Wetlands Nature Preserve — Mar 19, 2013 — Nutmeg
Day hike
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The Theler Wetlands are right in Belfair with parking at the Community Center off Hwy 3. Pics of par...
The Theler Wetlands are right in Belfair with parking at the Community Center off Hwy 3. Pics of parking area w/ sign and the trails are at http://www.flickr.com/[…]/.

Even on a rainy Tuesday these trails were well-used, and the local schools often come here for field trips and hands-on education. What a neat resource to have in a community! All of the trails are wide, graveled, and meticulously maintained, wheelchair and stroller accessible. There are many bridges and boardwalks which do get slick when wet. The birdlife is particularly abundant this time of year, and the honks of Canada geese, quacks of several species of duck, and unmelodious heron caws blended with the trills and whistles of Redwing blackbirds and many, many other little songbirds. Although we didn’t see any otters, their homes are abundant along the river and streams.

We walked the River Estuary trail and saw only a handful of people on the 1 ½ mile (one way) trail. It seems that most visitors prefer the long dock or shorter trails. This would be a perfect rest and refreshing leg stretch for a long drive that took you through Belfair. No pass or fee required. No dogs allowed.
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Mary E. Theler Wetlands Nature Preserve — Feb 28, 2013 — Bob and Barb
Day hike
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We walked the South Tidal Marsh Trail first and then the River Estuary Trail which takes you to the ...
We walked the South Tidal Marsh Trail first and then the River Estuary Trail which takes you to the Union River where you walk a mile along the river on a mix of boardwalks and graveled trail. All were in good condition. There are many interesting interpretive signs along the trails which total about 3.5 miles. The Wetlands Exhibit Center was not open. We have read that it is staffed by volunteers on week-ends and holidays. This is a good trail for people of all ages. We had light rain on this cloudy day so no mountain views were seen. There were not many birds. We saw Canadian geese, a cormorant, mallards, many red-winged blackbirds, and one heron. Pets are not allowed.






 
This w
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Mary E. Theler Wetlands Nature Preserve — Oct 26, 2012 — Wendy W
Day hike
Features: Fall foliage
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It was raining but the trails are in great shape with a few little puddles. There were some nice f...
It was raining but the trails are in great shape with a few little puddles.
There were some nice fall color, pretty water and lots of birds. We saw several great blue herons, a bald eagle, gulls, crows, ducks and many more that I don't know.
Great place!
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Theler wetlands hikingqueen.jpg
Mary E. Theler Wetlands. Photo by Hikingqueen.
Location
Olympics -- Kitsap Peninsula
privately managed
Statistics
Roundtrip 3.5 miles
Elevation Gain 50 ft
Highest Point 50 ft
Features
Fall foliage
Wildlife
User info
Good for kids
Dogs not allowed
Guidebooks & Maps
Day Hiking: Olympic Peninsula (Romano - Mountaineers Books)
USGS Belfair
wetlands map available online

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Note: the description and driving directions for this Mountaineers Books entry are copyrighted and can't be changed.

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