Celebrations and Festivals Dot the Harbor This Summer!

Mark your Calendars! Whatever corner of Grays Harbor County you are exploring this summer, fun festivals and community celebrations await. 

Photo of the Grays Harbor County Summer Fair

Sand & Sawdust Festival

June 28-30 • Ocean Shores

The Five-Star Dealerships Sand & Sawdust Festival in Ocean Shores pays tribute to the natural beauty and resources of the Pacific Northwest, as well as its bounty of artists. This year it is slated for June 28-30.

This festival includes the largest chainsaw art auction in Washington State. Over three days, festivalgoers will have the opportunity to watch more than 100 chainsaw sculptures appear before their eyes. At the end of each day, attendees will have the opportunity to bid on their favorite sculptures.

In addition, the Chainsaw Quick Carve Competition takes place Friday and Saturday.

This year’s festival will feature more venues for the sand events, including contests and artist demonstrations.

And if sand castles and wood carvings were not enough, on Saturday professional kite fliers will fill the sky with two-line and quad-line kite-flying demonstrations.

Live music performances include: Johnny and the Bad Boys, the Washington Old Time Fiddlers and Deer Swerver. For a schedule of events, visit www.tourismoceanshores dot com/sand-and-sawdust-2024.

Rusty Scuppers Pirate Daze

June 28-30 • Westport

Aye, matey! If it’s a live pirate you are hoping to spot, head to Westport’s Rusty Scuppers Pirate Daze June 28-30. Vendors, food, live music and plenty of pirate-themed mischief will greet you. The free festival is set up throughout downtown Westport. For more information and schedules, visit www.rustyscupperspiratedaze.net.

McCleary Bear Festival

July 12-14 • McCleary

If you’ve never been to the McCleary Bear Festival, it is time to change that. About as iconic as a small-town celebration can get and still draw large crowds, this 65th annual celebration is set for July 12-14 this year and includes entertainment in the park, a softball tournament, a car show, and more.

The highlights include a grand parade at noon Saturday preceded by a kiddie parade, and of course the bear stew dinner, which is served after the parade. Cooked by local volunteer firefighters, the stew is ladled from huge iron kettles in the city park and served with delicious sides. For more information, visit www.mcclearybearfestival.org.

The Montesano Car Show

July 20 • Montesano

Thousands of spectators and nearly 300 cars are expected at the 22nd Annual Historic Montesano Car Show in downtown Montesano July 20.

“This is an open car show, any special interest car or vehicle of any kind is welcome,” said Dave Foss, event organizer, adding that typically the show includes classic cars, street rods, muscle cars and sports cars.

Beginning at 8 a.m., the public is invited to admire the vehicles spread out over eight city blocks on Broadway, Main and 1st streets.

A pancake breakfast is scheduled at the Montesano Community Center that morning. The event also coincides with Montesano’s Saturday Market and Kids Fest.

In addition to Saturday’s event, at 4 p.m. Friday, July 19, car owners will enjoy a kickoff cruise-in at Snowbird Farm & Cidery, 484 Old Monte Brady Road. The cruise-in is also a good opportunity for the public to get a sneak peek of many of the cars that will be displayed the following day.

For more information about Montesano’s Historic Car Show, visit the Facebook page or contact Foss at dpfoss@comcast.net, or call (360) 580-7941.

Aberdeen Rain Glow

July 27 • Aberdeen

The 2024 Aberdeen Rain Glow Festival is set for 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. July 27 in downtown Aberdeen. The night-time festival is all about enjoying the sights and sounds of art and light and includes nine “Glow Worlds,” pop-up galleries, glow-in-the-dark costumes and live music. Passports can be purchased online. For more information, visit www.aberdeenartcenter.com/rain-glow.

Grays Harbor County Fair

July 31-August 4 • Elma

The Grays Harbor County Fair in Elma, features everything from 4-H animals and art displays to carnival rides and fair food. Running from July 31 to Aug. 3, this year fair organizers plan to bring back a cherished fair tradition – hosting one couple to exchange wedding vows at the fair. Potential applicants for this honor will be asked to submit a short video for consideration. (Application details are on the website.)

The 2024 Grays Harbor County Fair’s headliners are country singers: Neal McCoy, who performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, and Dylan Scott, who performs at 8 p.m. Thursday, Aug 1. Tickets for the concerts are not available for sale online. They can be purchased at the fair office or by calling (360) 482-2651.

For more information, visit ghcfairgrounds.com/events/fair.


August 10-11 • Tokeland

Woodfest in Tokeland is slated from noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 10 and 11. Begun by popular local wood artists and carver, Jeffro Uitto, Woodfest has grown from a carving party for woodcarvers to a bona fide festival that includes live music, food, local and visiting artists and live chainsaw carving by some of the most talented carvers in the region.

The event is hosted at the historic Tokeland Hotel, 2964 Kindred Ave., Tokeland. However, due to limited parking at the hotel, festivalgoers are asked to park at the Shoalwater Bay Casino for a shuttle to and from the event. For more information, visit www.tokelandnorthcove.com/events.

Art Splash Studio Tour

August 10-11 • Ocean Shores

The public is invited to visit 10 home studio sites with 18 artists from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 10 and 11 during the Art Splash Studio Tour of Ocean Shores. A brochure containing the artists, mediums, addresses, and a map can be obtained online at www.artshplashtour.org.

Gnome and Fairy Festival

August 17 • Seabrook

On Aug. 17, the Gnome and Fairy Festival will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Seabrook’s Town Center. This festival celebrates the magic of Seabrook’s forest, along with the creatures who call it home. The event, which coincides with the weekly Seabrook Saturday Market, includes opportunities for kids to make their own gnome hats and fairy wings, as well as participate in the Gnome and Fairy Parade and other family-friendly activities. For a schedule of events, visit www.seabrookwa.com/events/

Westport Arts Festival

August 17-18 • Westport

Situated along the picturesque Westport Marina, the 27th Annual Westport Arts Festival, set for Aug. 17 and 18, is certain to inspire creativity and promote fun.

In addition to the many artists and live music, the festival promises crafts and kids activities, vendors, food and a beer garden. It is also a great place to view plein air painting – or bring your own easel and participate yourself!

For more information, visit www.westportartfestival.org or the Westport Art Festival Facebook page.

Cranberry Harvest Festival welcomes all to the Grayland bogs October 8-9

The South Beach is gearing up for what is estimated to be the 29th annual Cranberry Harvest Festival in Grayland. The celebration of this unique, tart berry is set for October 8- 9. A crew of volunteers, along with the festival’s program director, Tanya Wood, have been working diligently to revive the three or more decades-old festival tradition, which was put on hold by Covid 19 during the last two years. Approximately a thousand visitors are expected to attend, participating in events including a cranberry cook-off, a run and even a parade. “We have people coming from as far as New York,” says Wood.

During the second weekend in October, festivalgoers will admire the beauty of the glowing red cranberry bogs during harvest, enjoy the traditional activities at the historic Grayland Community Hall and learn all about the humble cranberry with its unique tart flavor that complements our Thanksgiving turkeys so well.

Is it the 29th annual celebration?

Leslie Eichner, a Cranberry Festival veteran, explains why folks are uncertain if this is the 29th year the festival has been celebrated. Accurate information about the beginnings of the festival has been lost in the mists of time.

“We calculated the year of the first festival from historic Bob McCausland ads, which would make 2022 the 29th festival,” Eichner says. “However, I was recently corrected by a septuagenarian who told me the festival had already been going when he was in high school.

“The event used to be run by the Cranberry Coast Chamber of Commerce, a Grayland organization without a storefront run by a local couple for the purpose of organizing the Cranberry Festival. In 2012 they stopped running the chamber. Sadly, we never gained access to their files,” explains Eichner.

Regardless of exactly how many years the Grayland festival has celebrated the cranberry, this tart and versatile fruit is certainly enjoyed by many. Yet, when it comes to Thanksgiving dinner, few diners wonder about the origin of their cranberry sauce.

Watch the Harvest in Action

“People think cranberries come from the grocery store,” laments Mike Reickenberger whose farm will be the destination of this year’s bog tour, one of the major events of the festival. The guided tours seek to remedy this lack of education under the motto “Watch the Harvest in Action.”

Reickenberger generously donates precious hours during the busy harvest time to tell visitors all there is to know about the cranberry and the cranberry industry. He speaks about the know-how, the hard work and the community effort it takes to bring the fruit to grocery store shelves.

Cranberries are one of only three fruits native to America. The others are Concord grapes and blueberries.  In addition to the coastal Pacific Northwest, major growing areas for cranberries are in Wisconsin, New Jersey and Massachusetts. These areas have the right growing conditions.

“Cranberries need a low-pH, high-acid peat-like soil, along with a cool rest period in winter,” explains Reickenberger.

“Most people think that the berries are harvested in water. The wet harvest is indeed the easiest and most efficient, but it is mostly used on the much larger bogs on the East Coast. It requires a pond and dikes to flood the fields. The dry harvest is predominant in Grayland,” he says.

The Furford Picker invented in Grayland

The berries are gathered using local Furford Pickers. Some of these venerable machines are 60 years old and still going strong. The Furford Picker is an ingenious harvest machine invented by Julius Furford whose workshop is situated across from the bogs at 2395 State Route 105 in Grayland.

The original Western Pickers combed the berries off the vines and sacked them. Then later the farmer needed to prune the vines to keep them in top condition for the following harvest. In the 1950s, Furford invented a machine that not only picked the berries but also pruned the vines at the same time, saving an enormous amount of labor. The Furford Picker Company is still operating today. In fact, two pickers were recently sold to Sweden.

In 1986, Julius Furford established the Cranberry Museum, showcasing his collection of cranberry harvest artifacts in one of his buildings. He died in 1999 at the age of 91.

The Cranberry Museum

In 2012, Gwen and Chuck Tjernberg took over the operation of the museum and the Furford Picker Manufacturing Company. Last April, Holly Marshall moved to Grayland from San Diego, purchased the company and the museum and immersed herself in cranberry culture and history.

The adventurous new owner is full of enthusiasm: “I set up my bed in the area in the back of the museum and filmed myself with my phone to convince myself that I truly own a museum.”

The Cranberry Museum is an important source of local history, wonderfully complementing the educational aspects of the Cranberry Festival. The exhibits include hand tools and machinery used during all stages of the cranberry harvest from the most primitive to the more sophisticated Furford Picker. Botanical information, accounts of cranberry harvests and the use of the machinery are displayed.

Marshall is a knowledgeable and engaging guide, eager to promote the cranberry industry and the culture surrounding it. She is even learning how to build a Furford Picker! She is relieved to have volunteer help this year. “Last year I ran the museum by myself. It wasn’t easy,” she says. “I had three busloads of people coming in during the harvest!”

Marshall opened the Cranzberry Gift Shop inside the museum, which offers cranberry-themed gifts and a large selection of cranberry food items. The many cookbooks and recipes on display show how the cranberry has progressed in the culinary world.

Cranberries in the culinary world

Local cooks are invited to submit their favorite dishes to the Cranberry Harvest Festival CookOff  from noon to 5 p.m. Friday, Oct. 7 at the Grayland Community Hall.

The recipes will be collected in a community cookbook. Historically, the delicious creations submitted in the novice section use cranberries in a variety of dishes, including jams, jellies, chutneys, sweet breads, cookies, pies and more. Local chefs, bakers, brewers and winemakers participate on the professional level.

The Westport/Grayland culinary community has taken up the challenge to offer unique cranberry dishes in food stores and restaurants. The berry seems to lend itself especially to winemaking – either solo or paired with grapes.

The Westport Winery offers two cranberry wines. Bog Berry Blush is a tingly, tart and spirited cranberry/ Gewürztraminer wine. Rapture of the Deep is a sparkling cranberry wine described as “pure, joyous, angelic.”

The Wynoochee Valley Winery boasts some of the best cranberry wine in Washington State. It is sweet and tart. The creators suggest poaching pears in it for the “best dessert around.”

Blackbeard’s Brewery pub in Westport brews a cranberry mead which is so good that it tends to sell out quickly. They also offer their Pirate Cove Cranberry Wine.

Photo By Christine Vincent

Ocean Spray is unique co-op

The traditional jellied cranberry sauce was the invention of Marcus Uran, one of the three founders of Ocean Spray, the Cadillac of the cranberry industry, according to Reickenberger. Ocean Spray is a farmer-owned agricultural co-op, the only co-op on the Fortune 500 list. Its Grays Harbor cranberry processing plant is just off State Route 107 in Markham. Ocean Spray realized that in order to increase demand for the berry, one needed to develop new products. Immensely popular grocery store items like Craisins and Cranberry Juice Cocktail owe their existence to Ocean Spray’s excellent product development. Almost all Grayland cranberry farmers are Ocean Spray members. The co-op helps them stay competitive. In addition to Grayland, in Grays Harbor County, cranberry bogs are also located north of Hoquiam along the bay.

Grayland bog owner Bob Hitt explains the realities of cranberry farming: “A bog takes five years to produce a full crop. New hybrid berry varieties are being developed at research institutions, but also here in Grayland. The new Gregorki hybrid produces much higher yields and the new High Red hybrid produces better-quality fruit.

“Farmers must keep up with these developments. Drainage must be maintained, or wet years will ruin the crops. Ocean Spray implements regulations regarding independent sales. In return, they protect members with steady prices,” Hitt says.

Many of the Grayland bogs have been in families for generations. However, today the farmers find it hard to pass their bogs on to their children. It takes a person with a love for the land and hard work to raise a family in an isolated rural community. The ones who do stay truly appreciate the beauty of the hidden cranberry coast and its cranberry culture. The Harvest Festival brings recognition and fun to the hardworking farmers.

Locals participate in the Bite of the Beach Cook-Off or the Big Berry Weigh in, a competition for the largest cranberry. Some farmers grow the Pilgrim cranberry variety, which produces enormous berries the size of a large shooter marble, especially for the purpose of entering the Big Berry Weigh-In at the Festival.

How to attend the festival

If you visit Grayland on October 8-9, turn east on State Route 105. Then turn onto Cranberry Road to watch the beauty of the harvesters working on six miles of flaming-red bogs.

Visit the Cranberry Market Place with vendors and live entertainment at the Grayland Community Hall, 2071 Cranberry Road.

On Saturday, purchase a bog tour ticket and take the bus to the Reickenberger Farm. The bus will have a tour guide.

In the evening, watch the Firefly Parade sponsored by the Grayland Fire Department.

On Sunday, participate in or watch “Jog the Bog and Beach.” Beginning at 9 a.m., 10K and 5K runs and a 3K walk are scheduled.  (To register for “Jog the Bog,” go to westportgrayland-chamber.org and look under pdfs, 2021-Bog-Jog Registration.)

Purchase organic cranberries and cranberry jam at Plenty Farm, 2247 Smith Anderson Road, Grayland. Check out their Facebook page at PlentyFarm.

Visit the Furford Cranberry Museum and Cranzberry Gift Shop, 2395 State Route 105, Grayland; 760-492-4274. More information about the Furford Picker is available at furfordpicker.com.

To register for the Cranberry Festival Bite of the Beach Cook-Off, go to the westportgrayland-chamber.org website and look under pdfs, Cranberry.

The up-to-date festival schedule of events can be found online at westportgrayland-chamber.org

Bumper crop of farmers markets in Grays Harbor this summer

For centuries, the farmers market has been a gathering place that satisfied economic, social and cultural needs. Often situated on intersections of well-traveled trade routes, these markets enriched their communities, bringing people and goods together in ways that nurtured body and soul.

While not always placed on literal crossroads, the farmers market today is still an exquisite intersection of business, social interactions, food, arts and crafts, and even music, all in one lively place. And, in the last few years, Grays Harbor County has cultivated a bumper crop of them – four of the summer variety and one year-round market!

Photo by Rick Moyer

These are venues where neighbor greets neighbor, tourists enjoy a taste and feel of the local culture, artists display and sell their work, and nonprofit organizations let the community know what they are up to. It’s where connections and collaborations are birthed. And of course, it’s a place where fresh, local, healthful food – along with scrumptious treats – nourish, tempt and tantalize.

Some of the vendors, including Rob and Rocki Horton, of Elma’s Bee Organic Farm and Apiary, sell at several of the markets. (See story on page 13.) Rob brings a vitality to the markets as he heartily hocks his healthy produce – tomatoes, radishes, bunches of carrots and beets – in Elma, Montesano and Aberdeen – in a manner that would make a fishmonger proud.

“Our market features everything from fresh seafood and handcrafted garden gnomes to fresh flowers and wood artists,” said Jeff Wilson, the market organizer at Seabrook. “It showcases local artisans who might not be able to get in front of large groups and it also creates a sense of community as people gather. It has a throwback feel to it,” he said, “because people get to actually talk to the person they are buying the products from.”

Montesano’s market organizer Beca Wharton shared similar thoughts: “Montesano’s Saturday Morning Market isn’t just an opportunity to promote economic growth and encourage tourism; it is also an opportunity for each of us to sow into each other, whether financially or with just a smile … because we all benefit from investing into each other, and what better way is there to spend a Saturday?”

Photo by Rick Moyer

When it comes to local farmers markets, Grays Harbor Farmers Market, 1956 Riverside Ave., in Hoquiam, is the grandmother of the bunch, with many seasoned years of experience. It also has the distinction of being one of just two year-round markets in the state!

Beginning in 1975, an intrepid group of vendors struggled with the weather and various venues for years. Then in 1995, the current building was erected. Now, the Grays Harbor Farmers Market includes some 30 vendors in a comfortable building that includes Deidra’s Deli and bathroom facilities. Open seven days a week, it’s always a great place to pick up a meal, treat, gift, handmade card, toy, piece of jewelry or art, or other Grays Harbor-inspired item.

Photo by Rick Moyer

Of the Harbor’s outdoor summer markets, Elma’s Friday Market, the youngest and smallest of the group, is scheduled from noon to 6 p.m. each Friday, June 3 – Sept. 30, at the Elma Chamber of Commerce, 222 W. Main St. Only in its second year, this summer’s Elma’s Friday Market will expand to include artisans. There are no vendor fees this year, although pre-registration is required, according to Jillanna Bickford, director of the Elma Chamber of Commerce.Montesano and Seabrook both hold their markets on Saturdays, with Montesano’s Saturday Morning Market, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., July 9 – Aug. 27, in Fleet Park; and Seabrook’s Saturday Market from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., June 25 – Sept. 3, on Seabrook’s Market Street.

Started in 2016, Montesano’s Saturday Morning Market is the largest of the bunch, with an average of about 40 vendors each week, frequent painting-in-the-park classes, live music and special events. Seabrook’s market, which features about 24 vendors, is carefully curated so that everything is either handcrafted or produced by the proprietors.

Then on Sundays, the vendors at the Aberdeen Sunday Market, located at the south end of E. Heron and State streets, are open for business from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 22 – Oct. 2. This market, which began in 2019, averages about 25 vendors a week. Its offerings include frequent theme days, live music and weekly belly dancing lessons!

In addition, Lauren Garrett, the manager of the Aberdeen Sunday Market as well as the executive director of a WHOLE Harbor, an umbrella non-profit organization that encompasses the market, says that they have found ways for low-income households to stretch their food benefits at the market.

“People tend to think that buying local and organically produced food is beyond their budget,” she said. “But we not only take SNAP/EBT benefits, we also match them dollar-for-dollar through the SNAP Market Match Program!

We’re also an Authorized Market with the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP). That program gives additional benefits to WIC recipients in the form of vouchers to spend at participating farmers markets!”

Photo by Rick Moyer

Business Incubator

A farmers market is a place where larger businesses have an accessible face to customers and emerging businesses have a safe place to incubate, working out the kinks to see if they can survive and grow. But it’s not just the vendors in the market that profit, the organizers of the Grays Harbor’s farmers markets agree that the vitality of a bustling marketplace helps the business climate of the entire area. Instead of worrying about new competition, when it comes to commerce, the truth seems to be that indeed “a rising tide floats all boats.”

Photo by Rick Moyer

“The Aberdeen Sunday Market gives a venue for Aberdeen and the surrounding areas to really showcase all that we have to offer, especially to tourists!” Garrett said. “Of course, there’s the increased revenue and tax base that comes with the support of local small businesses as well. And not only the businesses that directly participate in the market either. A lot of foot traffic is created for the surrounding ones as well.”

“The market helps everyone bring people together,” said Elma’s Bickford. “It helps our local businesses and restaurants and brings them customers too.” Montesano’s Wharton agreed: “Our community thrives on its local businesses, whether big or small, and the market is a great place to showcase some of these incredible vendors.

As a coordinated event of the Montesano Chamber of Commerce, we are dedicated to the economic growth and success of our business community.”

Montesano’s market warms up baking business

For Joanne Rose, Montesano’s Saturday Morning Market served as a warming oven of sorts to help her baking business rise. Having enjoyed baking since her early teens, the longtime Montesano School District paraeducator offered her baked goods and decorative wooden crafts and terrariums for sale at the Montesano Saturday Morning Market beginning in 2019.

“In order to sell baked goods at the market I had to get licensed and a state food permit, so I decided to go one step further and start a baking business. I wanted to start small, so I consider myself a micro-mini business,” Rose said.

As she moved forward, pursuing the time-consuming paperwork to obtain a food processing permit, her “very handy” husband Shawn, went to work too, converting a small building on their property, a former game room for their now-grown sons, into a fully inspected and licensed food processor kitchen. With its two ovens, glistening stainless steel cooling shelves and immaculate counter tops, this is where all of the baked goods and delicious jams for “Joanne’s Jams and Tasty Treats” are produced.

Photo by Rick Moyer

“I really enjoy selling at the market, talking with the people and seeing them enjoy what I make,” she said. “A couple of people have told me, ‘I’ve waited all year for your marionberry pie.’ ’’

Now she can provide it, along with other pies, cookies, bars, quick breads, yeast breads and jams through special orders year-round via her Facebook page.  Receiving feedback and knowing she had a growing clientele developed through the market gave her confidence to take the plunge.

Elma Friday Market

June 3 – Sept. 30
Noon to 6 p.m. each Friday
Commerce 222 W. Main St.

For more information, contact Jillanna Bickford, Director of the Elma Chamber of Commerce, (360) 482-3055, or visit its website at elmachamber.org

Montesano’s Saturday Morning Market

July 9- Aug. 27
9 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Saturday
In and around Fleet Park

For more information, contact Beca Wharton at members@montesanochamber.org.

Seabrook Saturday Market

June 25 – Sept. 3
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. each Saturday
On Market Street

For more information, contact Jeff Wilson at (360) 276-4108; jwilson@seabrook.wa.com, or visit the Seabrook website

Aberdeen Sunday Market

South end of Broadway
May 22 – Oct. 2
10 a.m. to 3 p.m. each Sunday

For more information, contact Lauren Garrett at MarketManager@wholeharbor.org, or visit the Aberdeen Sunday Market Facebook page.

Grays Harbor Farmers Market

1956 Riverside Ave., Hoquiam
Open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Mon. – Thurs.
9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday
9 to 5 p.m. Saturday
And 11 to 4 p.m. Sunday

For more information, contact Nancy Lachel at the market, (360) 538-9747, or visit the market’s Facebook page.

Grays Harbor digs razor clams

Mark Fisher emerged from the Roosevelt Beach surf on a golden sunset fall evening with a triumphant smile, clutching a brimming mesh bag glistening with the season’s expanded limit of 20 prized Pacific razor clams, which the Hoquiam man proudly shows off for a photo.

Thousands of people just like Fisher have descended on the Washington Coast for the return of what has thus far been the most robust razor clam digging season in many years. In the first 25 days of digging, an estimated 126,300 diggers were able to harvest about 2.34 million of the mouth-watering mollusks.

Last fall’s digging opportunities were cut short by high levels of a toxin (domoic acid) found in the clam populations, and the season before was curtailed by Covid-19 concerns for the coastal communities.

The result has been a fall season of abundance for those who love to dig for the culinary delicacy and those who cook up the chowders, fritters and fabled concoctions featuring one of the most unique recreational pursuits worldwide.

“When Covid hit, we had clams for big digs that were expected in April and May 2020, but everything came to a halt. And then we barely got started last fall when domoic acid came roaring back,” says Dan Ayres, WDFW coastal shellfish manager. “When we did our stock assessment this summer, we were so pleased to discover that not only did the unharvested population hold over, but also more young clams were added,” Ayres said.

Photo by Angelo Bruscas

Deciding how many clams are available for recreational diggers involves many steps. After the razor clam population of each beach is determined, the number of clams on the northern beaches of Copalis and Mocrocks are divided equally between the state and the Quinault Indian Nation, because of state-tribal treaties.

The state also manages the Twin Harbors and Long Beach beaches.

The culinary clam

Razor clams for centuries have been a significant food and economic resource, as well as a cultural tradition celebrated and harvested by the Quinault Indian Nation and other coastal tribes. Some of the earliest historical photos of the Copalis area show a razor clam harvest being smoked on drying racks by the Indians. The clams are strung on sticks, each several yards, which are arranged over the coals of a fire against a platform resembling the beams of a small A-frame house. Just about every clam digger on the beach has his or her favorite way to prepare razor clams, but only a very few actually prepare razor clams for commercial dining.

Duffy’s Restaurant in Aberdeen undoubtably has cooked up more razor clams than any other establishment in all of Grays Harbor. Razors have been a menu item since at least the 1970s, says owner Paul Larson of the longtime family business at 1605 Simpson Ave., where his father and grandfather learned to savor and prepare the locally harvested delicacy.

At Duffy’s, you can order razor clams and eggs for breakfast or a razor clam dinner, and you can order one single clam as an appetizer or added to an entrée like the popular Logger’s Breakfast or chicken fried steak and eggs. 

Duffy’s also cooks up clam fritters. “We have done razor clams for a long, long time,” Larson says. “As long as I can remember, we have had them on our menu.” While Larson himself digs for razor clams for personal consumption, Dufffy’s purchases its supply from the Quinault Indian Nation’s seafood enterprise.

How does he cook his own clams? “They’re good, and I cook them the same way we do at Duffy’s: I do mine with flour, egg and then Panko. We used cracker meal for years, but when we bought the Bee Hive restaurant, that’s what they were doing.”

Photo by Rick Moyer
Photo by Rick Moyer

At Ocean Crest Resort’s acclaimed ocean view restaurant on Highway 109 in Moclips, both longtime chef Jess Owen (now resort manager) and executive chef Ronald Wisner field requests for razor clams daily, with regular menu items featuring clams or fritters, clams for breakfast, as a full meal, and as a side dish with the Crest’s special chili aioli, garnished with pickled onion.

“People ask for them a lot,” Wisner says, “especially when there is a dig going on, we may go through about eight pounds per night. They go and dig them and then they come and ask us how to cook them.”

Known as “The Culinary Madman,” Owen has even used razor clams for a Chocolate on the Beach Festival concoction and has developed a razor clam chowder that is gluten free. And the razor clam fritters that Wisner prepares at Ocean Crest have brought him top honors at the Ocean Shores Razor Clam Festival.

When it comes to cooking razor clams whole, Wisner notes, the secret is to batter and bread them first, lay them on a flat pan and then freeze them before cooking later. “That’s how we do it here, on a 400-degree flat grill with hot oil. By the time the outside is nice and golden brown, the inside is perfectly cooked.”

Expert diggers offer tips

Between the two diggers, Tom Northup and Greg Johnston have about a century of razor clam experience, knowledge, and sea-worthy stories to tell. Tom is a retired shellfish manager for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Greg literally wrote the book on the coast, “Washington’s Pacific Coast: A Guide to Hiking, Camping, Fishing.”

At the northern end of the Copalis digging area, with the sun just setting into an incoming storm, it took the two veterans about an hour to unearth 40 of the prized clams, known scientifically as Siliqua patula.

“I always dig the first show I see,” Johnston notes as he pulls up a small one and bags it. You have to keep all the clams you dig, no matter the size, but this season the limit has been increased from 15 to 20 clams per day.

In a matter of minutes, Johnston digs another hole with multiple shows and emerges with three clams. Johnston and Northup know exactly what to look for in a clam show –the rounded donut hole where a clam has just has pulled in its siphon. Both wield shovels; it is sacrilege for either to use a clam tube.

Photo by Angelo Bruscas

“People keep calling the tube a clam gun, but this is the original gun right here,” Northup says, holding up his slim-bladed clam shovel. The men prowl the receding surf and then dig methodically as the next waves roll in. “A good show will be like a nickel or a quarter,” Johnston advises. “If it’s dime-sized, those are the one you pass on.”

Ayres hopes to continue to offer digging opportunities into the spring. And, he’s excited that there are plans for digs right around New Year’s, which is a special tradition that only occurs on years with the right conditions and low tides. “The most important thing is for us to continue to be vigilant. The Department of Health requires us to sample razor clam meat prior to every opener just to make sure it’s safe,” Ayres says. “My crew is always out there.”

Even veterans like Ayres – with more than 40 years at WDFW and a lifelong razor clam digger – still get knocked over by a wave now and then, so dig carefully, he advises. Also, a fishing or shellfish license is required. The information on when digging is allowed on various beaches is at the WDFW website at wdfw.wa.gov. In addition, the website hosts videos showing how to dig razor clams as well as how to clean and cook them. Most of all, have fun frolicking in the surf with memories that can’t be made anywhere else and flavors that stand the test of time.

Ayres recalls getting “booted out of bed at four or five in the morning” when he was a kid to go clam digging with his parents and grandparents. “When we were done digging, we would sit on the hood of Dad’s ‘57 Chevy, still wet – even though Dad probably did most of the digging – and eat tuna  sandwiches, drink the hot chocolate and go home to have a clam feed. Those are sweet, wonderful memories that I still cherish to this day.”

Photo by Angelo Buscas