Kelly Zupich walks along the path of the guided beach tours. She is the education and outreach coordinator with the Sound Water Stewards of Island County. (Photos by Maria Matson/Whidbey News-Times)

Kelly Zupich walks along the path of the guided beach tours. She is the education and outreach coordinator with the Sound Water Stewards of Island County. (Photos by Maria Matson/Whidbey News-Times)

A chance to learn about Whidbey waters

Guided Beach Walks program an opportunity to spot wildlife, learn about ocean

Driftwood, seagulls, eagles and a gentle breeze. Guided beach walks offer a one-hour, one-mile stroll along the shoreline at Fort Casey State Park for an opportunity to hear about Whidbey’s beaches from volunteers for Sound Water Stewards of Island County.

The volunteer-based program is now two years strong.

Kelly Zupich, education and outreach coordinator, started the guided walks in order to have more adult-centric environmental education at Fort Casey State Park. She and volunteer Bill Cromley have led the program since. The walks are done in partnership with Central Whidbey Area State Parks.

“We at Sound Water Stewards want to educate the public on the local marine environment so they can make more informed decisions in their daily lives,” Zupich said in an email. Not to mention, getting people outdoors, active and enjoying themselves is also a “win,” she said.

Zupich describes the walk as a “Condensed Beach 101,” covering topics from estuaries to wrack lines, shells, driftwood, the importance of the local ecosystem and what makes Admiralty Inlet unique.

And if you’re lucky, it’s also a time to spot some wildlife. Possible sightings include a plethora of birds, harbor seals, harbor porpoises, sea lions and even orcas. Once, Sound Water Stewards spotted a gray whale on a similar beach tour.

“This walk also gives people an opportunity to ask questions about things they have wondered about,” Zupich said. “It is mostly geared towards newcomers and people who are just beginning to learn about Whidbey Island beaches.”

She’s found the walks often inspire participants to want to learn more about the ecosystems around them.

They average about 13 participants on the walks.

Cromley said he views the walks as an easy way to help people understand the importance of the Salish Sea and the Puget Sound region — economically, culturally and environmentally. He feels it’s important that people understand the impact of ocean acidification, plastic and wetland destruction on marine life.

One visible reminder of how interconnected regions are has been finding items from Japan and other countries washed up on the beach, he said.

The walks are offered during the warmer months of the year, now running twice a month this year in an increase from once a month the year prior.

The walks are free and open to the public, though a Discover Pass is required to park at the fort. The walk is recommended for adults and older children. Participants should come dressed to walk along occasionally uneven terrain and for the weather.

The next walks are 11 a.m.-12 p.m. July 20, Aug. 2 and Aug.17 at Fort Casey State Park.

Kelly Zupich of the Sound Water Stewards launched the beach walk program two years ago.

Kelly Zupich of the Sound Water Stewards launched the beach walk program two years ago.

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