This is part of a series on the beaches of Camano. Our goal is to celebrate Camano’s Beaches and to help visitors to our Island enjoy them too. The Beaches of Camano Project will culminate in the GRAND OPENING of Sunnyshore Studio on Saturdays December 3, 7 and 10, and in a coffee table book titled “Beaches of Camano”.

Each year, thousands of people lounge on the warm sands of Mabana Beach, splash in its sparkly waters, launch their boats through the 40-foot break in its seawall, and watch the evening sky turn alizarin above the turquoise trees of Whidbey Island and the purples of the Olympic Mountains not knowing the battle to keep Mabana Beach open to the public that took place in 1972 and the names of those heroes who fought that they might have that access they enjoy. I tell the full story of the Battle for Mabana in my upcoming book Beaches of Camano book but will share a few snippets here.

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Uniquely, Mabana Beach unique a Port. Swedish-born immigrant Nils “Peg Leg” Anderson logged at the isolated south end of Camano Island in the 1980s. In 1898 he purchased a ranch above Mabana and built a home for his family. Around 1911 he also purchased the tidelands of Mabana. A year later he platted the gently sloping hillside above Mabana Beach and began to sell parcels of logged-off land. He also built a 900-foot dock that became known as the Mabana Dock. It needed to be 900 feet; anyone who has waded out to the drop off or dug for sand shrimp at low tide knows just how shallow Mabana Beach is.

In February 1926 Mabana area voters approved the formation of the Port of Mabana and elected the first Port Commissioners. The main reason for creating the Port was to provide funding for upkeep of the Mabana Dock.

A little store was built at Mabana sometime before 1946. The Mabana Hotel sat on the bluff overlooking the beach. Cabins for rent were located north of the store  and inland of the road that ran along the top of the bluff. These cabins were used for such things as summer vacations and even short-stay rentals for the summer Vacation Bible School teachers who could then walk about one-quarter of a mile to the old school house where the Sunday school and church services were held.  In the 1950s and 1960s, houses were built inland of the road that ran along the top of the bluff overlooking the beach and the Port of Mabana.  Through the years, the county road that had  led to an old dock down on the beach was maintained either by the county or by people living nearby allowing free access and enjoyment to the public.

In 1947 my Grandfather Doctor “Doc” Dodgson moved from Moroni, Utah to Camano with his wife Sayre and four children, my aunt Margaret, uncles Bud and Robert, and my mom Ann.

Doc was an old-fashioned country doctor who practiced in Stanwood but chose to live on a 60 acre farm on the southwest side of Camano where for a while he raised thoroughbred race horses, then for many years a herd of milk cows, and then went into beef cattle.  During those years my mom and her siblings enjoyed the enchanting long days of summer when after their many farm chores (there was haying, and canning of vegetables, and splitting wood for the fire, and weeding the garden, and milking cows to do) they played in the refreshing waters at Mabana Beach, snorkeling, digging for crawdads and spearing the flounders in its shallow waters; or if they were quick enough, catching them by the tale.


Here are a few pictures of them enjoying Mabana Beach.

My Uncle Robert Dodgson and his wife Sandra moved to Camano Island from their houseboat in Seattle in 1972. They had purchased the little house with beach that Robert’s Grandmother the famous illustrator Fanny Y. Cory, known to her family as “Meetsy”, had owned since 1948. The first Robert and Sandra heard about the changes taking place at Mabana Beach was a cartoon in the Stanwood-Camano News that showed a picture of a concrete wall across the end of the road with people trying to look over and climb over to get to the beach. A neighbor who was a lawyer a lawyer, told Sandra that yes, a 6 foot high concrete wall with no opening for public access had been built so that you couldn’t get to the beach at all. He encouraged Sandy to get involved in regaining public access to Mabana Beach.

Here is a picture of Meetsy sketching at Mabana.

mabana 4

Robert and Sandy owned their own tidelands and had access to their beach so they didn’t need to get involved. But Robert had a history with Mabana Beach, and so was emotionally invested. He and his family and friends had used that beach since he was a child and his grandmother the famous illustrator F.Y. Cory or “Meetsy” used to go there. Furthermore, it was one of the few public beaches on the south end of the island that you could drive to so even people of limited mobility could get to the beach there.

Robert and Sandra did get involved. And thanks to their and others care the Port of Mabana District remains an active port.  Its boundaries range from the southern tip of Camano Island north to Mountain View Road, the same as when it was originally created. A 40-foot break in the seawall allows the public to enjoy its sandy beach just and the beautiful views looking west across Saratoga Passage to Whidbey Island and the far blue Olympic Mountains.

When my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer I came home for a weekend to be with mom and dad. And we walked on that misty winter day on Mabana Beach. I’m thankful for the courage and care of those who fought to keep Mabana open to the public!


  1. don ashford

    I found this post as I was googling Mabana.
    My name is Don Ashford, I am 68 years old living in Winthrop WA.
    My maternal great grand parents, Jay and Ethel Brooks were one of the couples that bought one of ‘Peg Leg’s’ stump ranches.
    A small plot, reportedly for $1 where they raised strawberries. Just slightly north of the beach access, on a small bluff above the beach.
    My mother, Neva Ashford, is still alive, 90 yrs old and we talk on the phone almost daily, about her early child hood there, my grandfather working on the first electric lines, the dock, the hotel, everything we can it brings her a lot of joy at this time in her life.
    Thanks for the pictures, different from the ones my family has.

  2. Thank you for this article. I’m so glad to learn a little bit about the history of Mabana. the beach/boat launch is only a little over a mile walk for us, and is so beautiful. I do not leave anything there, not even our dog’s doings. I love the idea of preserving the beach for my grandchildren and great grandchildren to enjoy.

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