We... give thanks
From its northern end, the Tommy Thompson trail in Anacortes is an urban delight, passing the working waterfront, stores, restaurants, condos and apartments, then cutting between boatyards and shipyards, crossing quiet streets, to eventually join up with the sea. It hugs the shore like a beloved, side by side until it finally climbs over it, a quarter-mile long trestle across Fidalgo Bay with the waters below teeming with seals, loons, buffleheads, mergansers and more. Gulls drop shellfish onto the hardened planks to open up pre-packaged meals.
Arching over the trestle is a sculpture with the single word “WE” written in several languages, reminding us of who creates these trails, who restores them when they are damaged, and who benefits from them day after day from this day forward. We do. And we are grateful.
The trail used to be a railway, built in 1890, when Anacortes boomed as a promised hub of a transcontinental railway. The railroad brought in lumber from the North Cascades (after Fidalgo Island ran out of enough trees) for the many, many mills along the bay. Anacortes used to be called the “city of smokestacks” because of all its mills. They eventually shut down and the railroad stopped running.
The route is named for Tommy Thompson, a passionate local railroad hobbyist. In the late 1990s, Tommy proposed to run his train from the Depot to March Point using the unused railway trestle over Fidalgo Bay. It was a wonderful vision, but Tommy passed before it could happen.
Town planners then had the grand foresight to open the route as a recreational trail, creating a special experience to travel by human power between the March’s Point Park and Ride and downtown.
Today was sunny and very cool; I layered up. I headed out my door to explore the Tommy once again, a frequent habit of mine in all hours of the day and in all manner of weather. Hundreds of people shared the trail this afternoon. Some rode pedal bikes, some electric bikes, some were on scooters, some on roller blades, some jogged, some strolled, some strode stridently, some relaxed hand in hand, some sat on benches, some entertained youngsters, but nearly all were smiling, content to be out on this late November day, a day without rainfall, finally, the last weekend day before Thanksgiving.
And one person – the former director of this park system -- was out cleaning shell debris off the pathway, as a volunteer.
I am grateful for today, being out with others enjoying the fresh air and having adequate health to explore the natural world of the northwest. I appreciate those who had the foresight to create this trail out of a railroad, and those who now maintain it for our enjoyment.
And with thanksgiving in our hearts this week, our gratefulness expands to think beyond this trail.
We give thanks for those who had the insight and foresight to set aside these many lands where our trails traverse. Some gave land, some gave money, some found grants, many wrote letters, some stood and still stand in the breach to protect the places we now take for granted.
Some gave sweet time and energy in building the trails we walk, or still give by maintaining the ones we have.
We give thanks for you, our precious readers and friends, for walking with us along the many trails and journeys we share every week. And we give thanks for those like you who pick up after their pets, pick up pieces of litter, kick sticks off the trail, don’t shortcut switchbacks, and greet other hikers with a sweet smile and a friendly word.
The day of giving thanks approaches. It’s wonderful to have a day set aside for that. And we know that gratitude and thanksgiving can be daily practices, helping us remember the many gifts we receive daily as we live on this most precious breathing planet.
What's Your Favorite Trail?
Send a photo and a few lines describing which of our trails you like best and why, and we may include it in our top 10 list on New Year's eve! Deadline is Dec. 26th. Email: HikingCloseToHome@gmail.com
Directions: In Anacortes, you can find the trail throughout the eastern edge of town. The northern terminus is at 11th and Q, next to Safeway. It follows Q Avenue south to 22nd, then cuts between streets all the way to 34th, the last point of access in town. You can also get on the trail at the Fidalgo Bay RV Resort, which has limited parking, and at its eastern terminus at March's Point Road, where the only parking available is three quarters of a mile south at the March's Point Park and Ride.
Bus and Bike: Skagit Transit has service to 10th and Q in Anacortes, just a block from the northern end of the trail. Anacortes has a bike-friendly downtown area, giving access to all of the areas suggested in the Directions above.
Mobility: The entire trail is paved, level, and wide, with no significant barriers other than a few cross streets in the downtown area.
Weather the Weather
If one is planning a hike in November, the weather should always be a consideration. Choose wisely whether to go to the more protected east side, or the wild west (wet and windy). Whether to go on a rainy Saturday or a windy Sunday. Whether to try a woodland walk, or stay out from under potentially falling branches or toppling trees. Whether to wear fleece, Gortex, or both. I’ve heard it said, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.” Tell that to the driver of the semi-truck blown over on Deception Pass Bridge Monday. And then there are flooding rivers and extreme winter tides that spill over roadways and pitch driftwood in all directions. One should definitely make a plan… or two, or three.
I went to the Skagit Valley Saturday to go bird watching with a friend on Padilla Bay, but just as we started out, the drizzle turned into a deluge. Abandoning that plan, I headed back to Whidbey warming to the idea of a good book by the fire. Yet, approaching Oak Harbor, and the rain shadow, the sky brightened and I reconsidered my options. I hadn’t been to Joseph Whidbey State Park for a while.
As I parked by the water, I noticed the tide was high. Still there was a path just off the beach and more trails on higher ground. Armed with my wool socks and Gortex raincoat I set out to explore.
Joseph Whidbey himself set out to explore this area back in 1792 as the Sailing Master on George Vancouver’s crew. He no doubt endured his share of storms on his four year journey sailing from England around the Horn and on to Alaska and Hawaii. He thoroughly explored the Pacific Northwest and circumnavigated the island that now bears his name. Later, as a Naval Engineer, he designed and supervised the construction of the breakwater in Plymouth, England, to protect the Navy fleet. Picture women in flowing gowns and gentlemen in long, dark coats walking the quay dampened by the spray of waves crashing against the sea wall.
Though West Beach Road is famous for waves splashing over the road in winter storms, the adjacent beach at the State Park was surprisingly calm on Saturday. The forecast had warned of a storm that would bring high wind and rain. They said to batten down the hatches, so to speak. But as I ventured out, the day was mild. Flotillas of buffleheads and harlequin ducks bobbed between the waves. Gulls glided over the water and spun above the picnic shelter. Families frolicked on the little bit of sandy beach or climbed over driftwood logs. Clusters walked the trails with kids or dogs, both species requiring time outside every day, no matter the weather.
Smith and Minor Islands Aquatic Reserve lay just to the west and the San Juan archipelago in shades of blue to the north. The Strait of Juan de Fuca, a wide channel from here to the Pacific, provides direct access for winter storms.
I walked the beach first and then climbed the hill into the trees. Yellow leafed willows glowed among the dark spruce and fir. The trail spilled into an open meadow where I stopped to study the kinglets, chickadees, juncos and sparrows among the bare, barbed blackberries and red, round rosehips. Despite the cloud cover and threat of storms I found myself smiling. As I circled back and felt dampness seeping into my shoes, a song seeped into my head.
Look for the silver lining whenever a cloud appears in the blue
Remember somewhere the sun is shining
And so the right thing to do is make it shine for you.
A heart full of joy and gladness,
Will always banish sadness and strife.
So always look for the silver lining
And try to find the sunny side of life.
By Eric Coates/ J.Kern / B. g Desylva
Hear it sung by Chet Baker
Click here for a park map
Directions: From Highway 20 at the traffic light in south Oak Harbor take Swantown Road west to the park entrance. If the gate is open you may park inside with a Discover Pass. Restrooms and picnic tables are near the parking area. If you turn left and park at the bottom of the hill on West Beach Road or turn right and park around the corner on Crosby Road you won’t need a parking pass.
By Bus or Bike: The nearest Island Transit bus stop is at Swantown and Heller Road in Oak Harbor, 3 miles from the park. Each bus can carry 2-3 bikes. You may bike here from Oak Harbor on Swantown or Crosby Road. West Beach Road has a huge hill just south of the park. Some cyclists like going up the hill as a workout. Others prefer to ride it downhill. Please wear a helmet, bright clothes and lights.
Mobility: There are wide, smooth trails at the upper and lower entrances to the park. Driftwood may block access for wheelchair users at the beach parking area, Trails can be soggy or muddy in places.
Falling in love can be...
... life changing!
Once upon a time, a young woman went down to the seashore to gather food for her family and friends to share. A man from beneath the water held her hand as she knelt by the shoreline. And, as they say, the rest is history, as the Samish story of the power of love to change lives lives on at Rosario Beach in Deception Pass State Park.
Falling in love. Nearly every one of us has had the experience, whether with a romantic partner, a newborn child, a beloved pet, or any other of the countless life experiences that capture our hearts and change us forever.
When I moved to Deception Pass nearly twenty years ago, I had a working knowledge of the park. I knew where the roads and trails led, where the beaches and headlands could be found, some of the history and pre-history, and some of the beauty of the park.
But then I fell in love, with the park and with the people. My life changed as I grew to know some of the many moods and the magic of the Pass, and some of the frequent visitors and local friends and neighbors. My life was transformed by the beauty of the views, the cathedral quiet of the forests, the joy this place brings to so many. I saw the park with new eyes, with a changed heart, giving me renewed energy to invest more of my life into my work and play.
I knew Rosario Beach well. But sometimes seeing a familiar face in a new light opens vistas of appreciation that take us to new heights of love.
On a stormy sunny day this week a friend and I visited Rosario, along with our dog Murphy. The wind had powered over Rosario Strait all morning, raising a ruckus of sweeping, crashing waves. We rode the floating dock in the bay near the Maiden, dancing with the rhythm of rolling water.
It was a very high tide. We stood near the edge of the driftwood, much of which was now floating in the swells of Rosario Bay. Breakers broke sharply right at the edge of what used to be the top of the beach, now just a forgotten suggestion of where the water should stop.
We paid a visit to the Maiden, reminding ourselves of her dedication to the new-found lover in her life, and in turn his promise to support her former community with year-round food. Her life changed forever, as seen in her visage on the story pole’s north and south sides. Tribal life changed forever with the assurance of the life of the sea.
We followed the south trail as it gently climbed to the top. Some graffiti on a warning sign made us laugh, and made us think deeply of the bigger context of love.
The wind battered and assaulted us, but also energized us with its power, with the joy of seeing the sun dancing in and out of the racing clouds, with the sound of the storm in the sculpted treetops, and with the depth of blue in the sky reflected in the sea below. We paused to see fronds of kelp, the hair of the Maiden, floating in the rocky water below.
Murphy led us back down the path on the north side. One peak of the Olympics dared to poke its head out of the storm raging on the peninsula. Waves continued to roll into Rosario Bay. The life of the tidepools hunkered down in their watery shelters below the surface. A yearling eagle challenged the wind and flew with abandon through the blowing and flowing gusts of wind.
We stood again at the edge of the water. A couple of visitors walked by, also mesmerized by Rosario’s new stormy appearance.
We fell in love with Rosario once again, a deeper, ever-growing appreciation of the heart of its beauty.
Directions: from the Deception Pass bridge, drive north a quarter mile and turn left onto Rosario Road. Drive about three-quarters of a mile and angle left and down onto Rosario Beach Road. Follow this into the parking lot of the State Park. A Discover Pass is required for parking inside the gate.
By Bus: no bus service is convenient to this immediate area.
By Bike: the highway is high speed with limited shoulder widths. Rosario Road is quieter but also with narrow shoulders.
Mobility: A wide gravel walkway leads from the parking area to the restroom and to the Maiden near the beach. Beyond here the trails are narrow and somewhat uneven. The south trail is far easier than the others.
A Leaf Kicking Day
It was so sunny last weekend, a stark change from the onslaught of rain and wind all week, I was forced to go out and frolic in it. "But what about my list of chores?" As the day grew warmer and sunnier, the feeling nagged at me. A little voice in my head said, “Put off those chores. Get outside! Soak up the sun while you still can!” I went out to do yard work, picked fruit and tidy flowerbeds, but the voice kept nagging, “Are you nuts? Go play!”
Finally, I made an excuse to drive down to Clinton to pick some things up and since I was so near, I took a walk at the Waterman Shoreline Preserve. It’s a place where I could kick my feet through a thick layer of leaves like I used to as a kid. Growing up in a deciduous forest I could tell this was a leaf kicking kind of day!
I parked at the trailhead just as a couple started down the hill on bikes. I’d heard it gets slippery for cyclists when there are wet leaves on the pavement, and this couple took it slow. But soon they disappeared in the distance without a single slip. I began my walk looking down at the carpet of colored leaves at my feet. But soon I was looking up at the golden tree tops against a brilliant blue sky. I found myself smiling.
This old road between Clinton and Langley used to be part of the Waterman Mill operation. I remember when the mill was up and running. The Waterman family used to own great swaths of Whidbey Island and logged much of it. This road provided access to a long chute where sawdust was loaded onto boats and shipped off to the mainland. But the mill was closed long ago.
The Whidbey Camano Land Trust won several grants that provided the funds to buy the 60 acres of waterfront property in 2015. They’ve focused on protecting the feeder bluffs and shoreline habitat. In 2016 they removed an old wooden bulkhead that had cut off the sediment supply to much of the beach and poisoned the water with creosote. Now there’s no sign of the former mill operation, but you can read about it on an interpretive panel.
I walked the roller coaster of road, steeply up and down, taking in the beautiful fall day as crisp as a good fresh apple. My feet shuffled through the leaves and I plowed them up and kicked them to the side, to clear a path for the bicycles, I told myself. But really who doesn’t love plowing through golden leaves two feet deep. Each leaf was different, though most were maples. Some were enormous and others delicate and lacy. Further on, the crunchy sound of me wading through dry leaves changed to a silent carpet of golden brown cedar fronds. I stopped to admire some huge cedars by a split rail fence. The sound of a hidden waterfall called mysteriously.
On the return trip I was surrounded by the chirping of busy little birds. I saw chickadees, juncos and kinglets. A thrush hopped between branches. Then a loon cried out from the water! There was a bird box on the side of a tall alder for ducks. A woodpecker drilled. Deer broke the brush on the side of a hill where alders leaned out over a bank of sword ferns. What a wonderful walk on a golden day at the edge of autumn.
For details about the Waterman Shoreline Preserve click here.
Directions: From Clinton take Bob Galbreath Road (by Dairy Queen) north to 2 miles. Pass Surface Road and look for the Preserve sign on the right. Or from Ken's Korner shopping center, take Surface Road to Bob Galbreath Road. Turn left and the gate will be on your right.
By Bus and Bike: The nearest bus stop is at Ken's Korner shopping center on Hwy 525. It's an easy 1 and 1/2 mile bike ride from there on a quiet road. All Island Transit buses can carry 2-3 bikes. Please wear bright clothes and a helmet.
Mobility: If you can get through the gate at the trailhead, it's all paved but hilly and may be slippery when wet.