A dead Staghorm Sculpin sits amongst Eccentric Sand Dollars



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Tolmie State Park
- by Janna Nichols

Do you like to surface swim? Like TWICE the distance of Edmonds UW park? Do you enjoy hiking through the woods with 1000 pounds of gear weighing you down?

If this is your idea of a great time, then this dive site is for you!!

Having heard that this site is abundant in Sand Dollars, Claude, Mark Dixon and I packed up our gear and set off Saturday morning to find and photograph the elusive Sand Dollar. How hard could it be to find Sand Dollars anyway?

Everyone has seen these...except ME!

Northwest Shore dives warned of the long surface swim, so we came prepared with good attitudes. First order of business when we arrived was to scope out the site and entry/exit point. The trail we found to the beach was about as steep as Jorsted Creek, but a zillion times longer. I kept thinking, NO WAY will I do this loaded down in gear! Too slippery with moss and slime everywhere. There's gotta be a better way!

Once on the beach we found a much easier trail leading to a road with parking spaces near the water. The nice picturesque bridge shown in NW Shore dives was completely barracaded with cyclone fence and warning signs.

We were elated to find the road and vowed to move our cars to the nearer entry point. It would be a hop, skip and a jump to get in the water from this parking area!! This would surely make the $5 parking fee worth it!!

As we hiked up the road we noticed moss growing everywhere on it. Hmm...didn't appear to be used much. There were also cracks and road damage in areas. Finally when we arrived at the top of the road we found it barricaded off to auto traffic. PHOOOEY! We'd have to hike this road down...and UP. (ugh)

(we were later told by a couple walking the beach that the earthquake a year or so ago had damaged the park and they had closed those areas)

After the hike down (which wasn't too bad) we got in the water. We were up to our waists when we spotted them! SAND DOLLARS! I didn't even have my fins on yet! As we walked out more, we came across huge expansive areas of the critters. WOW! I got all the photos we needed (for the invertebrates class - remember? This was the one I was missing!!) We realized we didn't even need dive gear to find these creatures...oh well!

Wow, they really DO exist!!!

A looooooong swim brought us out to the can buoy marking the first of three barges. We descended into 50 feet of balmy 45 degree water and explored the old wooden barge. Viz was...about 15 feet or so. We didn't even attempt to locate the other two barges.

On the entire dive we collectively saw only FOUR species of fish!! Starry Flounder, Striped Perch, Ling cod and one VERY RARE FIND: a Slender Cockscomb.

Mark saw this fish as he was hanging back in the barge, as Claude and I were getting ready to head back to shore. Mark came to retrieve us to show us the fish, but of course the fish wasn't there anymore. LUCKILY Mark got photographic proof of what he saw, and we later identified it as a Slender Cockscomb, and according to the REEF database, this was a FIRST.

Slender Cockscomb - Photo by Mark Dixon
Photo by Mark Dixon

A long surface swim back (ho hum, there's another Sand Dollar...) and then The Hike up the Killer Hill. Really rough when your weightbelt is pressing seriously on your bladder and you still have a loooong ways to go...:)

We all looked at eachother and said we'd pass on the 2nd dive, and called it a day with the one dive. I sure got my aerobic workout. At least the Sand Dollars and the Slender Cockscomb made it worthwhile!

Tolmie State Park is located off Exit 111 off I-5. Follow the signs West into the park.

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