Take a walk on the wild side—the wild side of Anacortes, that is. The shoreline of Fidalgo Bay has stories to tell.
Now, some three dozen interpretive signs and docent-led walks open a window into bay life past and present—stories of geological forces that shaped the local terrain, of the impacts of human cultures along the bay, and of learning to share resources essential to both human and marine life.
Fascinating photos and text tell of days gone by when Fidalgo Island was knit to the mainland by only a network of marshland, and Coast Salish tribes set up summer camps along the shores to fill their bellies and larders with the bay’s abundant salmon and shellfish.
A time when new, non-native immigrants carved a boom and bust economy from the wilderness. When 100 purse seiners filled the marina, preparing to fish in Alaska’s Bearing Sea. When lumber mills lined the shores of a working waterfront, providing valuable products and welcome jobs, but, unfortunately, leaving a legacy of marine and shoreline contamination. And a time when an annual Marineers’ Pageant attracted Indian canoe races, daring water skiers, and hydroplanes for summer entertainment.
Today’s wild side stories are decidedly different.
A major cleanup by the Washington Department of Ecology is removing toxic soils and debris and re-establishing a natural ecosystem. The once-damaged shoreline is again providing usable habitat and community resources. Over 200 species of birds and six juvenile salmon species utilize the bay’s ecosystem, and thousands of residents and visitors are drawn to the shoreline trail and amenities for recreation and enjoyment of spectacular scenery. Marinas, the Port of Anacortes, and waterfront industries work to keep pollutants out of marine waters. And naturally landscaped rain gardens imitate nature, filtering polluted runoff into the bay.
2015 saw the addition of Discover Points between the Guemes Channel and 17th Street. Two of them feature facts about Cap Sante Marina & Seafarers’ Way & Memorial Park. The shallow bay nestled behind Cap Sante headland was once a backwater of sand and mud, where logs were boomed and families dug clams. After years of lobbying by marine interests, the waterway was widened, basin dredged, and shoreline armored. That was in 1929, just in time to help Anacortes weather the Great Depression. In planning for the new millennium, the Port of Anacortes dared to dream BIG. It envisioned a revitalized Cap Sante waterfront as a world-class boating and tourist destination built around a modern marina and waterfront park.
A productive partnership
These and many more stories are told by Trail Tales, a program of Friends of Skagit Beaches, under a grant from the Washington Department of Ecology and in support of DOE’s Anacortes Baywide Cleanup. The Anacortes Museum contributed a wealth of information. Interpretive signage follow the Fidalgo Island shoreline from Guemes Channel on the north, around Cap Sante basin, downtown Anacortes and across a historic railroad trestle crossing the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve to March’s Point via the Tommy Thompson Trail. Fidalgo Bay is one of seven Washington State Aquatic Reserves, recognized for its biodiversity and aquatic habitat critical to the health of Puget Sound and the Salish Sea.
Pick up a brochure and trail map at the Anacortes Visitor Center (located at 819 Commercial Ave.) Or find the brochure, map, signage content, and 2015 summer activity schedule online at skagitbeaches.org. The nonprofit Friends of Skagit Beaches supports programs to protect local shorelines and marine waters through education, citizen science, and stewardship.
originally written July 22, 2015 by Jan Hersey; updated in May 2017