A place to connect with the natural world
The Dungeness River Nature Center sits in a beautiful, natural woodland of cottonwoods, big leaf maples, and conifers at the edge of the swift and cold Dungeness River in Sequim. It’s a forest and river sanctuary built on 75 acres of park land where people of all ages come to connect with nature, with each other, and to walk along the river’s edge.
Connecting with nature
Everyone has a connection with nature multiple times a day, whether it’s stepping across a beetle rocking its awkward way across a paved parking lot or hearing a flock of robins chirping in the morning sun. This is a place where you can have an animated conversation about animal and bird encounters, a walk through wildflower-covered hillsides or watching a redtail hawk hover over a field—with someone 8-years-old or 80, with an amateur birdwatcher or an expert.
Early one morning, a 3-year-old girl ran into the center holding a chunk of an empty wasp’s nest in her hand. “Look what I found,” she squealed. The director bent down to her size and asked, “Who do you think made that?” We all watched as she thought hard about what she’d learned in her short life so far. She couldn’t guess. Finally, she was told “a bug made that.” It was just the right amount of thrilling information to inspire a three-year-old to ask more questions.
A former small and crowded Audubon Center, the building closed during Covid for construction and underwent a complete metamorphosis with a building expansion over two years, emerging with a large new campus, a new name, and an expanded mission with an emphasis on nature and indigenous culture and perspective.
The center was originally founded in the 1980s in a single room in the local high school after a science teacher, Mark Hansen, Sequim, repeatedly listened to boys in his classroom brag on Monday morning about birds they had shot out of the sky over the weekend. He decided they needed both science, modeling, and inspiration to develop a better reason to enjoy birds.
In partnership with the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe and Olympic Peninsula Audubon societies, the new center contains an exhibit room, meeting and classroom space, gift shop and a wildlife viewing room, all connected by a light-filled two-story atrium.
A separate classroom, built at the edge of the woods to house children’s field trips and summer programs, is shaped like a traditional Northwest Coast cedar hat with three large garage-doors that open toward the river.
See museum-quality exhibits
The center’s exhibit room contain over 200 museum-quality mounted birds and animals, plants and trees of the Olympic Peninsula showcased in their preferred habitat—from the river’s origin in the alpine snowfields to its estuary on the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Exhibits also showcase Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe’s traditional and contemporary culture and perspective. Traditional Salish hand-carved house posts welcome visitors. Signage is written in both S’Klallam and English. The Tribe’s work in salmon, wetland, river, and tideland restoration is demonstrated just outside the door where a months-long project removed a levee, returning the former parking lot to floodplain, and creating shelter for juvenile and spawning salmon.
Close to the Olympic Discovery Trail
An extra bonus: Just a few yards from the center’s west entrance is access to the Olympic Discovery Trail, a 135-mile groomed pedestrian/cycling path built on a former railroad bed that crosses the Dungeness River on a historic bridge and trestle. This trail, when it’s completed, will stretch from Port Townsend across the North Olympic Peninsula to La Push on the Pacific Ocean, with Sequim squarely in the middle.
Upcoming events in spring 2023
Major events at the center during the year include April’s three-day Olympic BirdFest with expert birders leading field trips on estuaries, bays, tide flats, wildlife refuges, prairies and woods. There will also be indoor classes on species, birding, photography and drawing. Before BirdFest, Puget Sound Express will be offering a 3-day cruise to the San Juan Islands and following BirdFest, the center will have a 3-day field trip available to the Makah Indian Nation at Neah Bay to see some of the most beautiful birding hot spots.
Getting to the root of it
The root of all center classes, lectures, field trips and events is to inspire people to understand the interconnectedness of the intimate relationships of both the inanimate hardscape of outcroppings, soils, rocky river bottom and glaciers with all the life intertwined with it, from marine birds, avalanche lilies and salmon to salamanders.
Open seven days a week, the center provides classroom education, field trips, and exhibits about the salmon cycle, birds and animals living in the Dungeness watershed, as well as river ecology plus watershed restoration and protection. The center is open to the public with no admission charge, but fees may be charged for special events. Learn more at DungenessRiverCenter.org
By the Dungeness River Nature Center staff