Purdy Spit to Be Purged of Invasive Knotweed Species

Officially “undesignated” and long unmanaged, the Purdy Spit has been adopted by Wauna resident Bruce Murray. His story speaks to the coordination required.


A prominent thicket of invasive knotweed is getting the axe — and the loppers and the mattock in a full beatdown. Where it long stood next to the boat ramp, Wauna resident Bruce Murray envisions a recessed nook holding a pocket park.

“I see this as part of the welcome mat for the Key Peninsula,” Murray said. “I think it should be a warm welcome.”

What seemed at first a simple task to rid the spit of the big-leaved eyesore that has nearly engulfed the sign that welcomes motorists to the KP, led Murray into dealings with an unexpected number of local players.

On Saturday, April 13 a team of 10 local volunteers carried out the first phase of his plan.

“I see this as a multiyear process,” Murray said.

Pierce County Parks owns the beach on the spit’s south side. As Murray learned when he reached out for permission to work on the knotweed, the department labels it an undesignated park, which in practical terms means the county has chosen not to allocate resources to develop or maintain the parkland. The county was quick to give Murray permission to proceed with invasive species removal.

Adding a wrinkle, the highway and right-of-way are the responsibility of the Washington State Department of Transportation. The knotweed patch spills from the road’s edge to the upper beach, straddling state and county jurisdiction. While WSDOT expressed eagerness to Murray about having the weeds addressed, it raised the concern that excessive digging might destabilize the roadbed. He also learned that pursuing the cut-and-cover method of knotweed control, in which a patch is repeatedly mowed down and then buried under several feet of material, would require engineering and shoreline permitting.

Murray has officially adopted the spit under the Adopt-a-Highway Program, which has sponsors for vegetation management as well as trash pickup. The highway interchange at Wollochet Drive is an example, where a Rotary Club has recently planted a small forest of native species.

For Murray, the Wauna boat launch is special. It is the site of the former Goldman’s Store, an all-purpose store and post office built on pilings. The buildings were rotated to face the road after the bulk of peninsula traffic shifted from the Mosquito Fleet to the highway. Murray’s family first came to the KP in the 1950s. He remembers walking down the beach to go to the store. “It was a special place,” he said.

He has been in talks with the Key Peninsula Historical Society about recognizing the site. He has also reined Key Peninsula Business Association into the effort. KPBA owns the sign.

“It’s really needed,” said KPBA member Stan Moffett, who also leads Key Pen It Clean. “It’s a mess down there. It looks just terrible.”

“The initial thought,” Murray said, “is to go in and remove everything and create what I would call a blank canvas. We can better see what we’ve got here to consider the next step.”

For many commuters crossing the Purdy Spit, the knotweed thicket that obscures the boat ramp is just another sign of the lush rural landscape to come. Those who know knotweed see something else.

Knotweed infests shorelines, waterways, streambanks and ditches, where it rapidly outcompetes native vegetation and causes soil erosion and sedimentation, according to Melody Meyer of the Pierce County Noxious Weed Control Board. Several species are invasive in the Pacific Northwest, most with their origins in East Asia. Murray has heard it likened to the Incredible Hulk: when you chop it down, it comes back stronger. And green. Its roots penetrate deep underground and will resprout for many years. They have the power to push aside concrete. Fragments of knotweed rhizomes, if not properly contained, create new plants.

Control requires either years of diligent cutting, massive excavation, or repeated chemical treatments.

Meyer said the legal definition of a noxious weed is “a nonnative plant that is invasive, destructive, and difficult to control.” Knotweed probably takes the cake as the most difficult-to-kill invasive species on the KP.

Drivers on the Wauna curves pass through a gallery of the impact of invasive species, where large stretches of Himalayan blackberry and English ivy have choked out native biodiversity.

For Murray, following his retirement from Chambers Creek Regional Park, adopting the spit is a chance to make a long-term commitment as a steward of his home place. And he’s no greenhorn in the battle against invasive plants. He became involved at Chambers Bay when the gravel quarry was first converted to a golf course and blackberry and Scotch broom covered the hillsides. Fifteen years later, he sees the huge difference that can be made with a collective effort.

On the spit, which he insisted should be called the Wauna Spit rather than the Purdy Spit, he sees the joy that the beach brings to kite surfers, clammers, orca-chasers, picnickers, and holiday revelers alike, along with the lack of stewardship by the agencies that own it.

“I just want it to be a nice space,” he said.

Moffett agreed. “You get a different feeling, crossing over the spit. It relaxes you, gives you a calmness. I think a nice entryway to the peninsula would go a long way in helping to support that feeling.”