WHS students really "dig" shellfish

For a high school student, there's the classroom. And then there's the "classroom."


March 21, 2024

MD Johnson

Wahkiakum senior, Libby Davis, is well on her way to a limit of fine-eating razor clams

On Thursday, March 14, five young ladies from Wahkiakum High were treated to the latter learning center, a facility that many know by a different name – The Long Beach Peninsula. Lead by Kyle Hurley, wearer of many hats and professional educator for subjects and extracurriculars including Ag Mechanics, Environmental Science, Natural Resources, Future Farmers of America (FFA), and Trapshooting, and assisted by ... well ... me, M.D. Johnson, the group travelled to the Peninsula to take part in a Washington tradition, a morning of digging Pacific razor clams.But it wasn't all play, though the educational aspect of the morning certainly came dressed in the guise of play. It's vital, Hurley and I discussed on the drive from Cathlamet to Long Beach, that these young people understand how important it is that we all play a part in the conservation and preservation of not only Washington's natural resources, but of all our natural resources. It's a big place, the Pacific Ocean is, we agreed, and it's easy to lose sight of just how fragile such a big place is. And that, then, was the 'theme,' per se, for this particular day in the classroom – Take, but take care. It was an undeniably glorious day on the Peninsula, especially for mid-March. Sunny. Warm enough, but not too warm, with just a slight breeze out of the north. With it being a Thursday, coupled with a -0.3 low tide at 10:12am, the beach was surprisingly void of people; in fact, I'm not sure I've ever, since my first dig in '93, seen so few folks wandering about. Not complaining; just an observation. The dig started slowly, and by 9:45, we'd only captured two or three of the elusive shellfish; however, as is often the case, the coming of low tide brought with it an abundance of clam 'shows,' which, as veteran claammers know, is a disturbance in the sand revealing the presence of said shellfish. Within an hour, all five girls – seniors Genevieve Fleming, Makayla Davis, and Libby Davis, along with underclassmen, Maddi Grangroth and Marga Goldinov – as well as the talented Mr. Hurley, had their 15-clam limits, while I played the photographer, sans digging, and reveled in the knowledge that I had plenty of clams in the freezer AND wouldn't be cleaning shellfish on Friday. Lunch was hot dogs grilled over a small and very safely located fire above the high water mark, my wife's homemade potato salad, and, much to the girls' chagrin, generic cola. "I'm not," I told them, "being locked inside vehicle for 63 miles with five people who have been guzzling Mountain Dew since 8 o'clock in the morning." I lost; they brought their own.

All in all, caffeine overload aside, the day, Hurley and I agreed, was a tremendous success, a 'WIN' made possible, in large part, by the district's behind-the-scenes partner, The Wahkiakum County Marine Resources Committee (MRC). On a statewide level, the MRC was created by the state legislature in 2007 as a way to financially support and enable smaller rural communities to "form committees and coordinate local marine projects." Here at home, the Wahkiakum County MRC, a creation of the Washington State University Extension, was formed in 2009, and since that time has worked with such familiar agencies as the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) and the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board, funding through grants projects like local stream monitoring, work on the Julia Butler Hansen Refuge, and, in my personal situation, a two-year grant that provides funding for outdoor educational trips such as the one we embarked upon on Thursday. In years past, the MRC has provided Wahkiakum High, via recently retired Environmental Science instructor, Jeff Rooklidge, currently Kyle Hurley, and myself a long list of outdoor opportunities, including shellfish and sturgeon studies on Willapa Bay with Zack Forster, shellfish biologist with the WDFW; fisheries and hatcheries studies, along with Cold War history, at the Radar Lakes above Naselle; and a fascinating presentation by Ms. Annie Herrold, fourth-generation oysterman and owner of the Chetlo Harbor Shellfish Company. Author's Note – It truly is only through the ability of the MRC, as well as the administration history, at the Radar Lakes above Naselle; and a fascinating presentation by Ms. Annie Herrold, fourth-generation oysterman and owner of the Chetlo Harbor Shellfish Company. Author's Note – It truly is only through the ability of the MRC, as well as the administration of Wahkiakum District #200, to see the incredible value of these outdoor experiences to these young people, and these entities' willingness to financially support these projects, that these 'adventures' are possible. How valuable? Several years ago, Rooklidge and I took a young man to the Peninsula as part of a razor clam dig and WDFW shellfish study. Then 16, the young man had lived his entire life within 60 miles of the coast, yet had never seen the ocean. It was, I told Rooklidge, like taking a puppy to the park and letting him off-leash for the first time. What I saw was pure unadulterated wonder and amazement...and that's why we, collectively, do this. It was a good day; a definite 'WIN.' The young ladies had the opportunity to ask myriad questions, all in an informal setting conducive to clandestine learning. And truth be told, I learned as much or more from them as (I hope) they did from me. I told them how the pilings on Desdemona Sands below the Astoria Bridge once held the stables for the horses used to haul full salmon nets out of the Columbia River. We talked of Lewis and Clark's lengthy stay at the Dismal Niche along what's now Highway 401. And of the Plainview, the U.S. Navy's experimental hydrofoil now abandoned and rusting in the last little backwater on the Columbia before the Astoria Bridge. And, of course, there was a lot of 'why this' and 'why that' regarding razor clams.

As for the ladies:

From Genevieve Fleming – "I really enjoyed the scenery and atmosphere; it was so gorgeous and the air was filled with laughter. I've done this before, but it was nice to do it with my peers and learn more along the way. In my Field to Fork class, we got to clean clams and make fritters. It's been a while since I've had to clean clams, so I was relearning that and got a great snack! Any time I'm with either Mr. Hurley or M.D., I'm always given little anecdotes, and I live for the life knowledge they bequeath. I'd do it again in a heartbeat!"

And from Libby Davis – "I really liked being able to spend time on the beach, while enjoying the weather and doing what I love. I wouldn't have changed anything. It was really fun. I saw a lot of clams popping up. As soon as you'd dig one, 10 other holes would show up all around you."


And that, again, is why we do this.


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