Local Adventures: Fort Casey State Park

Fort Casey State Park sits in Central Whidbey Island, just past Coupeville, Washington. It is part of a three base layout, in the old days the hope it could protect the Strait of San Juan de Fuca (the Salish Sea). Admiralty Inlet on Whidbey Island was considered so strategic to the defense of Puget Sound in the 1890s that the three forts, Fort Casey on Whidbey Island, Fort Flagler on Marrowstone Island, and Fort Worden at Port Townsend, were built at the entrance with huge guns creating a “triangle of fire.” Built in the late 1800’s, it was dated by WWI due to airplanes, but held on till after WWII when it was decommissioned. It has sat fallow many decades but changes are at hand. I’ve been wandering the base since I was a child and the base was always old-looking. I’ve talked about it before, but as a child I remember parts of the fort that are not open anymore (down below, under ground). In the 90’s anything attached was slowly removed and stripped, and a gutted concrete shell was left behind.

Which, if one looks across the sweeping, very wind-swept grass field, looks quite desolate in the morning fog off the water. It does look like an abandoned concrete relic. Come in spring, it is green and inviting 😉

But change is happening. It had been a couple of years since we had been to the park and it has changed. The grounds look better, the areas left open to explore are relatively clean and there was…..electric lights installed in some of them. With interpretive boards. Talking fancy and what not. Are the days of headlamps and flashlights numbered?

Well, the good news is the same graffiti I saw in 1989 the first time I moved to the island was still there. They haven’t gotten it that fancy …. Yet.

Alistaire on the steps to the smaller guns. This year he had fun climbing up and leaving Mom below.

Snowberries, starting to turn pink in the late summer.

Wild Rose Hips.

Late Aster.

Admiralty Head Lighthouse.

Looking up the west side of the island, towards the low area of Ebey’s Landing.

If one wants a gorgeous view and a picnic lunch, be sure to check out the many picnic tables by the lighthouse.

Afterwards, we drove down to the parking lot near the Coupeville Ferry. It is part of the state park as well, and while not sandy beaches, if you have kids who love tossing rocks and finding seaweed whips…and like to watch ferries this is the place. (The camping area for the state park is right on the water, on the other side of the ferry.)

Parking: You will need a state Discover Pass.

~Sarah

Local Adventures: Meerkkerk Gardens

Meerkerk Gardens is a private oasis open to the public, in the heart of Whidbey Island. It sits south of the (very) tiny village of Greenbank. The first time I passed the gardens, I was 16. That was a very long time ago. I lived on the far Northern end of Whidbey Island then, and so it was a wooden sign pointing down a dark, forested road. When an island is 50 miles long, well, you might never get there and explore it.

This spring when we moved to South Whidbey, our middle son Walker got to go on a field trip to the gardens, which I missed. He told me all about it, and I knew we had to go soon. I figured it was going to well manicured gardens. Well, I was right a bit, but also really wrong.

From the moment you enter the grounds, till you leave, you simply feel bathed in nature. It is both sprawling flower gardens, walking paths to hiking paths, that go into wild forest. You can stroll a few easy wide paths, or be like us and wander off into the woods. Grab a laminated map in the visitor kiosk, or download one. The entrance fee is $5 per adult, children under 16 are free. Payment is in an honesty box.

Over the years my hiking sensibilities have changed – I find it very easy to appreciate the wilds and also love spaces that have been preserved. If anything, we need more of these. Anxiety lessens with every step.

My Mother In Law clued me in on these thistles, and how popular they are in flower arrangements.

The colors are so popping.

Rhodenrons are native in the Pacific Northwest, and this garden specializes in them and also hybrid versions. The Eastern Olympic Mountains are full of them, and can make hiking interesting. However, I had never seen such old specimens, with thick bark, moss and curled, contorted branches.

The gardens have 3 ponds, and the “nature trails” take you back to them, and up and down gentle ridges.

The boys and I explored the Marine Trail, which is tucked away. It goes down, down and down, then levels out for a peek-a-boo view.

I also realized this trail didn’t get a lot of feet after we battled our way out through a pile of Stinging Nettles.

At the top, there is an open lawn, shaded, with a gazebo and some amazing views of the top of Holmes Harbor. The top of the harbor is across the water, the land in the distance is Camano Island. The Northern Cascade Mountains were out in the distance.

Greenbank Store recently opened just down the road. While the renovations happen on the big store, they opened up the very cute Greenbank Pantry & Deli next door. Let me put it this way, the Greenbank Store was a landmark. For years, when I lived on the North end of the island, to me it was when you left the Central of the island, and entered the magical land of hippies, hermits, farmers and random filthy rich. Who knew I’d call that home one day, but I was sad when I saw the store shutter a few years back. The village is seeing a resurgence this year, with a new restaurant having opened, and now the store (and also home to a cannabis store). The store carries cold drinks, colder beer, and a really well-selected array of quality food (especially if one is cabin “camping” in the area!).

~Sarah

Local Adventures: The Westling Loop

The south end of Whidbey Island is mostly rural, yet it boasts an amazing park, the South Whidbey Community Park, that sits on a vast swath of forested land. It is known by locals as Castle Park, due to the children’s playground that is full of castle tops. To find the Westling Loop, once you enter the park, head up the hill at the road’s first junction. The road winds up a short hill and ends in a paved parking area, that is shaped like a cul-de-sac. The main trailhead sits in the woods, and has a large map and trail kiosk to read. However….the actual trails are mot marked there. It was a bit odd, and jarring. And be forewarned: the map below in the photo and the online map you can print do not quite match up. There is more trails than are on it, more connectors. Take the printed map and draw in the trails from the kiosk map. However, it isn’t likely one would get terribly lost, as the trails are all short.

The nearby playground is a gem for kids, and there are clean restrooms and water by the playground, as are many picnic tables.

At the trailhead I wasn’t sure exactly which way to go so we took a right. However, lesson learned, take a left. It’s easier to not get temporarily confused about where one is. And the different colors in the map are sharing a trail when you see them next to each other, FYI.

 

All the trails are wide, graveled nicely and easy to walk 2 to 4 across (the trails are designed for a park vehicle to drive on). The woods are perfect for sunny days, when you want to hide in the shade.

Many birds out, native slugs puttering along, and even plenty of happy humans and a few pooches on leashes.

With plenty of benches sprinkled along the way for anyone wanting a rest. This bench sits where the trail curves along the upper soccer field. There is a trail to the left as well, it is a connector trail.

We also walked the Water Take Way trail (it doesn’t show the trail going through on one of the maps. It does).

Hence why it is called the water tank way 😉

We ended up doing a lower loop (don’t ask how that happened….) so in frustration we walked back the way we came, and at the main trailhead we took a left. That came to a marked junction – yes, trail signs really do help! This time we did the loop as shown and got to see the other side.

It was a very well taken care of trail. It just needs one or two more signs and it would be about perfect. I mean, even one of the park benches had a garbage can! The boys and I are planning a return trip, to hike the rest of the park’s trails, this summer.

~Sarah

Local Adventures: Hiking The Trails At Greenbank Farm

The first time I moved to Whidbey Island it was 1989. I left. I came back. Left. And came back. That time I spent 9 years. I left for 15 years. This past year, as Kirk and I spent months searching for land to call home and homestead on, we came back to the island. And found our home on South Whidbey, in a rural area. Not far down the way, at the edge between South and Central Whidbey, lies the Greenbank Farm, a historical swath of land, that is now protected.

I had driven by the farm many times and not once had I pulled in and visited. Today was the day to hike the trails. If you are on the island, and are looking for a leg stretcher, or a dog-friendly hiking area, you must visit it. For a map of the trails see here to print one. Google Maps has most of the trails for the farm online, and outside of a few dips (right by the barns!) cell service is good, even for T-Mobile. However, remember that there are trails beyond the farm, and those are not on Google Maps. See here for a printable map, showing the parking as well.

Park in any of the lots around the farm buildings, and set out for the fields. Look for the pea patch and set straight out, heading towards the highway (West) to start the main loop trail. The trail gently rolls, across old farmland, that is now meadows. Many birds, including hawks and eagles, are visible.

Wherever there is a scenic view, at the top of a crest, find chairs and benches to sit on, and enjoy the amazing views.

I had always wanted to see this tree in person.

Looking down at the water, the view is across to Camano Island, and the head of Holmes Harbor and Saratoga across the water (Also part of Whidbey).

As the trail touches the edge of the perimeter, it heads east through the forest. On the other side of the fencing is the other part of the land, owned by Island County. It is public lands, also open to hikers, but does allow hunting during the fall.

There are trails that intersect across the meadows, up and down.

Two more chairs on the top of the high ridge, with 2 benches further down the trail.

Ford and I headed down, to finish the loop, following the perimeter. The trail goes lower and gets a bit boggy, but that means a high amount of wild roses, salmon berries and stinging nettles (and lots more). The trail smelled amazing in the warming sun.

We enjoyed the forest part. It was shady, with the breeze kicking through gently. Up higher, on the ridge, the wind was stronger. This section of the island is very narrow, only about 1.5 miles wide. At the top of the ridge you can see from the North Cascade Mountains to the East, and then to the West the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Look for the red barns below and an easy hike completes the loop, coming out by the pea patch gardens.

If you have time, visit the Master gardeners garden near the pond.

Because…I take photos of compost areas.

Lots of interesting garden ideas to check out.

~Sarah

South Whidbey State Park: South Forest Discovery Trail Loop

South Whidbey State Park is a hidden gem, tucked into the rural south end of Whidbey Island in Washington State. While the park isn’t big, it’s well worth a visit if you happen to be on the island. In recent years the park had to shut down its campground due to dangerous trees, so even less traffic sees the park. For us, the park isn’t far away (it’s literally one ridge away) so having an early release day at school, the boys and I (and Kirk) headed over to get a quick hike in. Kirk only had a bit of time, so we couldn’t do a long loop. Next time of course! (See here for a map to print)

South Forest Discovery Trail Loop is off of the parking area, as you enter the park. It’s not always obvious it’s a trailhead, so look for the bathroom on the right in the big meadow by the parking area, then look straight ahead to the woods and you will see the sign for the trail.

Go straight ahead to do the Southern Loop. The maps are a bit confusing, and the “northern loop” isn’t marked. You will pass a sign by a trail that hooks to the right not long after that says “Picnic Area”. That is the northern loop. Take it on the way back for a bonus hike 😉

The trail parallels Smuggler Cove Road for part of the way, but the little streams help push down road noise. Lots of salmon berries ripening in the open forest.

The boys loved all the bridges, over the tiny streams.

Wild roses.

Some very healthy Skunk Cabbage!

Parking Note:

A state Discover Pass is required.

~Sarah