Splashes of water, a tangle of leashes and several furry friends greeted me at the trailhead. What a chaotic canine commotion! They were just finishing their hike on the Trustland Trails. I was just starting mine. In time they managed to separate into different cars and off they went with their two legged companions. I turned and started up the ADA Trail.
This half mile loop is made for those who use walkers or wheelchairs, and they allow us on 2 feet to use it, too. I thought about what ADA stands for, the Americans with Disabilities Act. Or what it COULD stand for, All Deserve Access, Any Day Adventures, Allow Determined Action, Always Dancing Around. It occupied my thoughts as the trail occupied my legs and lungs and eyes and heart.
This is a lovely way to approach this trail network. It’s wide, easy, almost level and enchanting as the trail weaves between the tall evergreens. It instantly put a smile on my face. A friend told me her father was so grateful when she brought him here in his wheelchair. A woman I met using a walker said she came here often. We swapped stories of more strenuous hikes on other trails. This is a trail for any ability level. For me it was a pleasant entrance into a whole trail system. The ADA loop trail leads to many more pathways in a woodland web.
When I was here last year the new trails looked a bit raw. Now they've settled in. New signs posted at most trail intersections pointed the way to the parking lot, or had a map of the whole trail system with a tiny “You Are Here” at the appropriate spot. I’d taken a photo of a trail map at the entrance and planned my course, but it was good to have additional reassurance along the way.
The rain of the night before made the tiny Evergreen Huckleberry leaves glisten in the afternoon sun as it filtered through the canopy. Tree frogs called back and forth. Lush ferns framed the trail on both sides. A few puddles had formed here and there, but nothing I couldn’t hop over or dance around. Chickadees, juncos, kinglets and wrens called from the brush. A woodpecker drilled on a snag. Flickers swung between pillars. A spotted towhee kept an eye on me and reported my whereabouts to all who would listen.
The treetops danced and swayed in the breeze sounding like swords clashing. This would not be a good place for a walk on a windy day, but this afternoon was perfect for early autumn. Blue sky peaked between clouds. The sun glowed warm and encouraging. And as I found my way back to the parking lot, I noticed vine maples glowing in their brilliant red and gold. I could feel the seasons turn in the crisp fall air.
These trails form a wide web for dog walkers, joggers, horseback riders, and wanderers. Nearby neighbors access the area from the south. The bus provides access to the north just a short walk away. There’s a covered picnic shelter, if one needs a place to meet with friends. Here are miles of trails with easy access for all, whether you come on 2 legs, or 4. Or on wheels by bike or bus, walker, wheelchair or stroller. Whether you walk briskly or wheel softly, the lush forest rejuvenates us all. Approach Delightfully Aware.
For a trail map, click here.
Directions: From Highway 525 just south of Bayview, turn on to Craw Road. In 300 feet you’ll see the park entrance.
By Bus and Bike: Island Transit’s Route 1 or Route 60 southbound buses can stop at Craw Road, just 300 feet from the trailhead parking lot. There is no northbound bus from here. Take the southbound bus to make a northbound connection at Maxwelton Road, Ken’s Korner or in Clinton. See the bus schedule here. Two bikes fit on a bus bike rack. Please wear bright clothes and use front and rear lights if biking alongside the highway. Traffic is heavy and fast.
Mobility: The half mile ADA loop has a packed gravel surface made for wheelchairs. Other trails vary in width and may be hilly with a packed dirt surface. Some trails are suitable for horses. When approaching horses, please speak softly to put the horse at ease. Always keep dogs on a leash.
Ala Spit -- even the name brings a smile.
You’ve probably been here many times. You drop down to the beach, and there it is right in front of you, a long spit inviting you north, and a short stretch of bluff-backed beach to the south.
You walk out onto the beach, and then it happens – a smile begins to creep over your face, and soon it fills your lungs and energizes your legs and goes all the way down to your toes, which are wiggling in your shoes hoping to feel the sand between them. The sky is wide open, the horizon filled with Hope Island in front of you, Mount Erie rising off in the distance to the north, and open water leading southward as far as your eyes and dreams can see.
Like magic, it happened to us this weekend, the expected experience becoming transformed into a simple joy of open sky, open waters, and an open beach opening our hearts and filling them with child-like joy.
We walked south at first, rounding the point, finding dinosaurs and jungle animals in the shapes of the logs we walked past, and then we walked on top of them, balancing ourselves like kids in a playground. We poked among the mud and rocks down to the end of the park, then turned north, walking at the water’s edge, seeing others walking the beach too, some with fishing poles, some with dogs, some just with their thoughts.
A young couple played with their dogs in the shallow tidewaters lined with soft sand, the dogs reveling in their freedom. We talked dogs with them and shared stories about our furry friends, then stepped across the rippling waters to a second spit, which I don’t remember seeing there before, extending southeast from the main spit. At this level of tide, only a foot above zero, it led outward like a beckoning gray brick road into the tiderip starting to flow southward on the incoming flood. Kath danced and skipped all the way to its tip.
Wildlife loves this place too. An osprey hovered almost over our heads then plunged into the water, coming back up a couple seconds later with a fish in its talons. Seagulls followed it to steal the meal, but to no avail. Oyster catchers ate things in the shallows, little critters skittered through the mini tidepools, a heron flew in to be a Zen master, and feathers and shells adorned the wrack line we stood on.
We walked through a cornucopia of a child’s simple dreamworld of delights, bees buzzing bright buttons of flowers, boats buzzing offshore, shells inviting us to pick them up and play with them, or driftwood being imaginary creature friends, forts, picnic spots and resting places.
Going around the north point, the gravel becomes dreamy sand, white and warm, then morphs into mud. We took the middle trail back among the grasses, stepping aside as two fat-tired e-bikes motored past us, then onto the beach, following our footsteps in the opposite direction. The riders smiled and giggled all the way.
Some hikes are serious work, strenuous, with specific objectives of climbing a hill, getting through those woods, scrambling here or fighting through a brushy place there.
Ala Spit, no. Go where you want, rejoice in the open sky, sunny islands almost at arm’s reach, sunny sand and waters at toes’ reach, wildlife and imaginary play and distant views and the roll of the earth encouraging you to look closely, play freely, walk in the wild, be a child, and smile.
Directions: From Highway 20, 6.5 miles north of Oak Harbor, take Troxell Road east four miles to Geck Road on your left. Drive down to the beach parking area. Troxell Road becomes Jones Road if you go too far south. [5050 Geck Road, Oak Harbor]
By bike: Troxell Road is winding and hilly with narrow shoulders, but minimal traffic.
Mobility: The parking lot gives some of the view; beyond that is mostly open beach, gravel, mud, and occasional driftwood across the narrow paths.
I hadn’t seen Rick and Carla for almost a year. It was good to hear they’d docked at the Oak Harbor marina. I took the bus up to meet them for lunch on Pioneer Way. Afterward we walked back to the boat and I got a tour. Rick’s handiwork was clever and seamless. Every available space was used for storage or custom crafted for optimum comfort in close quarters. They lived on their 40 foot boat each summer sailing between islands but would soon be heading back to their home in Montana.
We walked back into town with our shopping bags but parted ways at the mermaid as I headed for the Waterfront Trail. Crossing the street at the bus station I passed the fishing dock and followed the boardwalk. The tide was coming in and gulls called overhead. Across from the playground two young pups were in training. They were getting socialized and I was happy to play my part.
Passing the broad plaza I thought about the recent events that had been staged there. The Oak Harbor Music Festival and Hydroplane Races had drawn huge crowds, but it was quiet now. After Labor Day the water was turned off at the mock shipwreck, but the playscape would still be fun to climb on. It was a warm weekday afternoon but school had started and the swimming lagoon was empty. A cyclist sped across the park in just moments. A woman walked her large dog on the beach. Teenagers passed me on the sidewalk talking. Two young men relaxed on the lawn. A woman pushed a baby stroller. A man shot hoops at the basketball court. A child sped by on a scooter. His little legs pushing hard as mother called. All was well on the waterfront.
I crossed Beeksma Drive into Freund Marsh. Rosehips and berries adorned the native shrubs. Bird song filled the air. I was ambushed by Bushtits as they swung into a berry bush. Dog walkers passed with their bag of poop at arms length. A jogger ran by as I stopped to read an interpretive sign. Such a bright, warm, afternoon for mid September. How many more would we have like this before the seasons changed?
I have walked this park many times, in many seasons. When the Freund Marsh trail opened I helped pull together the resources to create the interpretive panels and met the Freund family at the dedication. The Oak Harbor Parks Department planted snags, native trees and shrubs to attract wildlife, and it works. Whidbey Audubon leads bird watching trips here. I led the High School Ecology Club in a successful pick-up-the-poop campaign. And a few years ago the Windjammer section of the park went through a major renovation that made it a great place for large gatherings, festivals, and family fun days.
Of all the towns on Whidbey Island, Oak Harbor has made their waterfront more accessible than any other. I led a group of blind people on this trail to find birds. I’ve walked with a friend in a wheelchair. It’s a wonderful place for the very young or old, the most fit, or those with mobility challenges, and you can easily get there by bus, bike, boot or boat.
As I left the park to catch my bus at Walmart, I felt grateful and amazed that such a treasure exists here open to all of us in any season.
Directions: Take Highway 20 to Oak Harbor and turn onto Beeksma Drive to park between Windjammer Park and Freund Marsh. Or take Pioneer Way and turn on to Bayshore Drive and park across from Harbor Station. Enter at Flintstone Park on the Waterfront.
By Bus or Bike: Take Routes 1, 3, 411, 6, 9, or 10 to Harbor Station and cross the street. Island Transit provides free bus service 7 days a week. For a schedule click here. Two bikes fit on the bus bike rack. Please wear something bright when biking by the road. There is often heavy traffic on roads in Oak Harbor.
Mobility: The waterfront trail between Flintstone Park, Windjammer Park and Freund Marsh is easy to walk or roll. Trails are wide and almost flat with either boardwalk, pavement or hard gravel surfaces.
A helicopter hovering overhead always gets your attention. For those in need, it is a most welcome sight and sound. For the dozens of the rest of us who were there, it brought out our binoculars, cameras, and best wishes for the rescuers and those being rescued.
This Labor Day weekend was warm and sunny. People were everywhere, doing their best to top off their vacation buckets before school started. Kayaks and power boats filled Bowman Bay; hikers filled the trails and beaches. With a very low tide now beginning to flood, we hiked the beach below the bluff all the way to Lottie Bay, joining throngs of others exploring Lighthouse Point. .
Walking onto Reservation Head we heard the first whump-whump-whump of a large helicopter. Soon we saw a Coast Guard helicopter sailing toward the bridge, then turn and hover over the water near Little North Beach. Through our lenses we could see a rescue boat close to shore, and a kayak on the rocks beneath the bridge. A man scrambled on the rocks and was helped to safety.
We all breathed a sigh of relief until the helicopter and rescue boat then powered up and headed toward Lighthouse Point! Just out of our sight another rescue was taking place as park rangers assisted a different kayaker in trouble near the point. The tide was now in full flood, so anyone near the entrance of Deception Pass would be pulled into it. Apparently, there was more than one boater unfamiliar with the power of the Pass!
After two successful rescues, the rescuers headed back to their base. But dangers still threatened.
Kath and I watched a family of hikers taking chances on the rocks south of the point, climbing a steep route with young kids in tennis shoes and flipflops. Another couple struggled to get down a nearby steep rocky slope. Seriously, folks: these aren’t the kind of memories you want to make.
Near the point, the peace of the place returned. Sunlight sparkled in the racing current. The long hair of kelp flowed below. Gravel beaches, rocky headlands, contorted trees, shimmering water, what more could we ask of a hike? We scrambled to the north side to look across at Rosario Head. Two toy-sized paddleboards passed below, tied together, the one in front towing the one in back, both riders wearing swimsuits and nothing more, the current pulling them toward the pass. Park rangers, still on their rescue boat, met them and escorted them back to Bowman Bay. Thank you.
The afternoon warmed the headland as we sat in fields of golden moss above it all. Quite the hike, quite the day. We hiked back without any further incidents. The rising tide forced us to take the Bowman headland trail back to the parking area.
Labor Day weekend is when most workers get an extra day off from their labors. But not everyone – we are grateful to first responders who are there if we need them. And on this day, there were some who definitely needed them.
Evening into Night
I returned as the sun burned the water into liquid honey. Boats rested at anchor, silhouetted in the dying light. I hiked past Bowman out to Lighthouse Point. The evening darkened, the trails empty, the forest quiet.
There were no kayakers, no hikers, no helicopters; the rangers, rocks, and headlands rested from the day’s adventures. I rested in the meadow, watching the lighthouse flash its green warning. Cars streamed silently across the bridge, their red and white lights a blurred stream. The current churned outward now, a powerful river riding past the point.
A nearly full moon climbed above Pass Island and paved a golden path across the waters. Lyra, Deneb, and Cassiopeia twinkled with their starlight high above.
I walked out under the gently glowing candlelight of the moon.
"This evening was as brief as the twinkling of an eye, yet such twinklings are what eternity is made of. "
-- Fred Rogers
Directions: Just north of the Deception Pass Bridge turn west onto Rosario Road and then take an immediate left onto Bowman Bay Road, and another left at the stop sign at the bottom of the hill.
By Bike: Highways in this area are high speed and hilly, with mostly narrow shoulders. Be careful.
Mobility: The Lighthouse Point trails are narrow, rolling, rocky and rooty.
Please recognize and respect the dangers inherent in a place like Lighthouse Point, and in the waters of the Pass! Stay on established trails, and know your skill level and equipment.
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