Repairs will keep Big Ditch near Stanwood closed into October

STANWOOD — A popular spot for hunting, bird-watching and hiking near Skagit Bay is expected to remain closed into October while the tide gate and fish passage there are replaced.

Skagit County Drainage and Irrigation District 17 has started a $500,000 project to repair aging infrastructure at Big Ditch, about three miles north of Stanwood. The work began Aug. 15. Though Big Ditch falls within Snohomish County, it’s part of the Skagit County special district. The district sold the land to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife in the 1960s for public use but kept the ability to make repairs as needed.

The work being done now is expected to be a “lifetime repair,” said Brandon Roozen, executive director of the Western Washington Agricultural Association, which works with about a dozen special districts.

“The goal here is to finish this as close to when the public wants to access the site as possible,” Roozen said. “This location is open year round, but the primary use of it is for hunting in the fall.”

A news release from Fish and Wildlife cited Oct. 31 as the goal for reopening Big Ditch. It could be sooner than that, but there’s no specific date, Roozen said.

The project is being paid for by property owners within the district. It’s one of the district’s largest projects, Roozen said. The goal is to make drainage and irrigation better for farmers, improve fish access with the new passage and make the area safer for people who come out to walk or hunt.

The access to Big Ditch is a one-way road, and with equipment and materials for the project coming in and out, it’s not safe to try getting out there until the work is done, said Belinda Rotton, Skagit Wildlife Area manager for Fish and Wildlife. The area should be open before the busiest months for hunting or birding in the fall and winter, she said.

“We get a lot more activity there during the waterfowl and snow goose viewing time frames because it is a water access point where you can get pretty close to the marsh and really see the birds,” she said.

Maintenance projects for tide gates and fish passages are routine, Roozen said. The public access at Big Ditch makes this one different. However, maintenance and safety need to take priority. The work is expected to be a permanent fix for the outdated infrastructure and no other major projects are planned there anytime soon, he said.

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