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Beaches of Camano: Onamac and Henning Beach

 

Camano’s beaches bring families together. None more so than then Henning Beach, just north of Onamac Point. Henning Beach has been bringing the Henning family together since 1926. Sue Simonson, the eldest in the third generation, shared with me her story.

Sue’s grandparents, Peter and Nannie Henning, and their four children, Cliff, Marguerite, Geneva (Sue’s mother), and Peter Jr. would often camp at Rocky Point. From there, Peter would take his 18 foot boat and fish to the south of Rocky Point. One day, he saw a parcel of land that caught his eye. When this parcel came up in a tax auction in 1926, he bought the quarter mile strip of beach which included a spit and the 40 acres above it for $2,000.

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At that time, the only way from the bluff to the beach was by a switchback trail, that was christened the “Indian Trail”. The Henning family would hike down to the water to picnic and play on the beach. Peter worked as a contractor in Canada, Alaska and Washington. (The Henning Bridge, that he built over the Pilchuck river, was named after him.) Because of the severe grade to this property, he knew that he would need to purchase 50 feet, from the neighbor who owned Onamac in order to make a road with 10% grade from the County road to the waterfront; thankfully, he was able to do that.

 

Peter built the road to the beach and completed the house on the beach in 1929.

Now, next to the original home there sits three others: one for each of Peter and Nannie’s children. In 1950, the second house was built for Marguerite and her two boys, as she was widowed. The family shared the original house, until it became too full, then the three remaining children drew straws to see who would be given first option to purchase the original house, from the family or to build. Geneva drew the short straw and she and her husband Erling chose to purchase the original house from the family, and her the two brothers, Peter and Cliff built their own family homes.

Sue’s aunts and uncles have now all passed away, but these homes have remained in the family, passed down through the generations. The houses are owned by the 10 cousins of the 3rd generation who have shared over 6 decades of treasured beach memories. “The 15 cousins in the 4th generation, which include my children, Lisa Anderson and Todd Simonson, actually own the property, and “lease” the land back to us.”  Now a 5th generation is rising up, 16 and growing.

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Henning Beach is a family beach. It has been a wonderful place for the family and relatives to get together in the summer: playing in the mud flats, swimming, crabbing, fishing, and, most of all, just enjoying being together as a family. I asked Sue what happens when they get into a family fight. She said, “That doesn’t happen. Sure there are disagreements, but we work it out.” The family holds annual meetings to discuss maintenance, tax payment planning and future use, all run by Robert’s Rules of Order. Years ago, the 3rd generation penned a family mission statement. This is read at the beginning of each annual meeting and it reaffirms the family’s purpose and goals.

But even though it is a “family beach” they don’t keep it to themselves.  Thousands of people have been welcomed to gather for class parties, class and family reunions, bridal and baby showers, birthdays, staff meetings, retreats, photo sessions, graduations, weddings and memorial services.

The “Private Beach” signs are there to let people know that the beach and tidelands are private property, not to keep people from walking on the beach, but to ask them to respect it. Neighbors from Onamac Beach, to the south, and Eagle Crest, to the north, (a community with a tram that transports them to the beach) commonly walk by enjoying the beauty that surrounds.

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Did Peter and Nannie realize that this investment would create a legacy of bringing a family together almost 100 years later? Probably not, but it is a gift that the Henning family doesn’t take for granted as they maintain the highest level of stewardship and continue to share this amazing gift with others. It brings them together and reminds them of how blessed the gift of family can be.

 

Beaches of Camano: Elger Bay and places where we heal

 

“If there is any place to heal or get comfort it is in a beautiful place like that.”

The beaches of Camano have been places of comfort and healing to many. Jerri Gunderson now lives in Brisbane, a sweet little community near San Francisco but from 1997 to 2011 she lived in the Saratoga Terrace community overlooking Elger Bay.

Her husband, Steve, who was an engineer at Kimberly Clark in Everett, had always wanted to build his own home, but he had never had the time to do that. However in 1997 they found the perfect place for their home and moved into a trailer on their lot to begin Steve’s lifelong dream of building his own home.  Three years after their home was completed, Steve passed away from a serious heart attack. Jerri sprinkled his ashes in the bay because “he loved Elger Bay.” She stayed there for 9 years after that.

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Jerri healed by walking on the beach that Steve loved. At that time, there were only a few homes sprinkled on the beach. The Saratoga Community owned a grassy lot with a covered area with a picnic shelter, and a boat ramp. “I walked the beach a lot in the mornings. There was  seldom anyone there to disturb the solitude and peace except the eagles and seagulls. Over time, the beachfront became more developed – with large homes filling in all the empty spaces. It no longer seemed the welcoming place it had been beforeand so she discontinued her walks, enjoying the bay from the community beach lot or from her view on the hill. Jeri told me that she read somewhere that only Washington and Rhode Island are only states where the beaches are not open to the public, where the beaches and in some cases the tidelands can be privately owned.

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Perhaps even more instrumental in comforting and healing Jeri was her stunning view. “People always say if you have a view like that after a while you just don’t notice it that much. But I never had that experience. The view was never the same. The shape and color of the clouds always changed. The sky had a myriad of subtle colors. The Olympics were quite elusive, sometimes visible sometimes not. Whidbey Island could be sharp and crisp as though it had moved closer or it could hide in a fog bank. The color and movement of the water changed the view. The sunsets were glorious. There was usually activity such as boats sailing by on the straits beyond the bay, people playing on the beach, or wildlife. She remembers once sitting on her deck and watching a parade of old sailing boats that were going to Seattle. From February – April, Jeri watched Grey whales came into the bay because it’s a shallow and has a sandy bottom ( Gray whales eat crill that live in sandy bottoms. ) “You could see them sweep through, go up on their sides, use their fins to make a hole on the bottom, and the crill would come up with the sand from the hole and float in the water, and the whale would make a quick turn to feed,” she told me.

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“If there is any place to heal or get comfort it is in a beautiful place like that; Elger Bay was a lovely place to remember our happy times together. Living in our home did not make me sad. It was comforting to be there because both of us had loved it so much.  . “God used the bay to bless me .”

 

Beaches of Camano: Livingston Bay and Sundin Beach

The best place to catch the sunrise on Camano is on Livingston Bay. Any time of the day the Bay is beautiful. But perhaps most mesmerizing is at night around the end of September when a Harvest moon all huge and orange comes up on Livingston Bay and makes it like a fairy land.

Well over a hundred years ago part of Livingston Bay belonged to a logging camp. There was a slip road for rolling logs down to the beach from where they would be shipped to Everett and Seattle. At one time Livingston Bay had an Oyster farm, but it failed.

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What is distinctive today about this large bay is the panoramic view. To the south is Iverson beach. West are the farms and Terry’s Corner, once owned by R.C. Terry who “everyone knew”.  North along Livingston Bay is Sundin Beach, then Juniper, then Stanwood and the Mainland, framed by the Cascades, and Mt. Baker. Sometimes you can even see Mt. Ranier to the south.

Livingston is a low bank waterfront. It is very shallow with mud flats and not much sand. You can dig for butter clams but they’re not very good.  In the summer the water is always warm because it comes in slowly over the mud, but you have to wait for high tide to swim. Be careful if you venture out into the mud flats. The tide comes in fast and there are deep channels. A few people have drowned by being caught in the mud flats with the rising tide.

In the fall migrating Canadian Geese and Snow geese, Mallards and Teal shelter at Utsalady.  And the Harvest Moon rises making the Bay a fairyland.

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Beaches of Camano: Historic Sunset Beach Resort

“Looking out on the water nothing has changed.”

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Camano’s Beaches have changed over the years. But the water in front of them remains the same. This is true of Sunset Beach. Back in the heyday of fishing there were three fishing resorts next to each other: Sunset Beach Resort, Madrona Beach Resort, and Camp Lagoon, run by Dee Blackburn. Mike Little and his brother Jim ran Sunset Beach resort in the late 60’s and early 70’s and he lives there today.

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Mike’s Aunt had a place at Maple Grove, so Mike and his family was familiar with Camano. When Sunset Beach Resort owners Ray Gerhman and his wife put the resort up for sale in 1967/1968, well known Camano Island realtor Theresa Hagstrom got Mike’s mom involved. Four people bought Ray German out, Mike’s parents, being one of them. Mike, his wife, and his brother, leased the resort for a year and ran it. After that initial year lease, Mike bought in and became a half owner. He was 23 at the time.

“My brother and I were pretty young, more energetic. We really had to hustle.” “It was a 24/7 operation” Mike says. The season started in March and ran through September. Mike and his brother woke up with the first person to get their boat there, at, 4:00 or 5:00am in the morning, when it was still dark. They ran the restaurant that was in the northeast corner of the store, cooking pancakes and eggs for breakfast, fish and chips and hamburgers on the grill for lunch for the fisherman who sat at the bar with eight stools. They ran the store, selling groceries, fishing gear, and renting boats and cabins.

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They launched boats, and based on the tides, the fishing and the weather there would be anywhere from 10-40 boats launching each day. The real hard core fishermen would be out at the crack of dawn and back by 10:00am or at the latest noon. Most nights they would seine for herring, putting them in the live bait tanks.

Mike says “I was an avid fisherman. What I didn’t realize was that when you ran a resort you couldn’t go fishing.” There best days were when it was stormy and fishermen weren’t going out. Then Mike and his brother would finally get a chance to fish.

Mike says that he was also unrealistic about the business side of things. His daughter was born in May 1969, after Mike and his brother launched as the Resort Owners. After running the resort for a couple of years, Mike ended up leasing or renting it out to others who tried their hand at it, all too various degrees of success. Sunset Beach no longer is a resort. Mike has kept the old building that house the grocery and restaurant as well as living space in similar condition that it was back in the day. Fishing isn’t as good as those years in the 60’s and 70’s. It was exceptionally good, Mike remembers, the year that he started running the resort.The best fishing was on the west side of Camano from Onamac to Maple Grove. One day in 1969 we had two 33 lbs Kings come into the resort.

The biggest Mike could remember was a 41 pound King, caught just off the launch. He remembers when Polnell Point was the hot spot on Puget Sound.This was in the mid 1950’s. Mike has changed too. He’s 70 now. He still lives on that property on Sunset Beach, his sister Maryanne and her husband Arlyn next to him in their parent’s home. But when Mike looks out on the water, nothing has changed. Just the other day he looked out into the water in front of his home and saw a seal, and was sure there was salmon below.

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Beaches of Camano: Manaco Beach

Camano’s waters teem with marine life. It is easy to forget that we humans share our beaches and their waters  with eagles and seals, cockles and clams, oysters and otters. It is not so easy to forget that on Manaco Beach, between Cama and Indian Beach, were Louis Bloom serves as the local “Beach Master.”

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In the 1940’s to early 1960’s it was the Manaco Resort, one of the many resorts on Camano. From the 1960’s to today it is a private community beach.  Louis parents, Mel and Mary Bloom, bought the resort in 1957, and since then many Blooms have lived off and on at Manaco, including Louie.

 

So Louie has known this beach for 59 years, and for forty years served as its Beach Master which from what I can gather means part historian, part scientist, and part steward.

Manaco Beach is a gently slopping beach to the -1.0 tide level when it becomes sandy, typical of 80% of beaches between the State Park boat launch and Onamac. It’s always had an abundance of mussels, butter, littleneck, cockles, horse clams, crab, shrimp, bottom fish and other sea life. Now it has oysters, manila clams. seals, cormorants, river otters, and eagles.

Over the past forty years Louie has enjoyed, cared for, and cultivated Manaco Beach. You can see his work at www.oldcamano.net. I will use Louie’s photos to show you just how teeming with life our beaches and their waters are. Louie’s work is a model of both caring for and cultivating that life on our beaches.

Here are photographs of eagles at Manaco.

Here are photographs of or from the raft.

Here are photographs of  Louie’s work with oysters.

Louie’s work on Manaco Beach reminds us that we must never forget that we share these same beaches with all God’s creatures and so must strive to be good stewards of them.

 

Beaches of Camano: Cavalero (II)

Cavalero is a great beach to go to for peace and quiet. It’s a County beach open to the public and it has a boat launch. But it feels like a private beach.

My friend Teri Cooper Olin’s family spent a lot of time at Cavalero in her youth.

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They called it “our beach” and launched their boat there because it was protected from the weather and was one of the easiest to get your boat in and out of the water. They planned ahead because the boat launch at Cavalero is fairly short; you sometime had to wait for the tide to come in to get your boat out.  Teri remembers spending many-an-evening waiting for the tide to come in so they could launch.

Cavalero collects all different sizes of driftwood. Teri and her sister Cheryl would walk from one end of the beach to the other on the driftwood without touching the ground. There was a very large piece of driftwood that they built into a fort and added onto every time they went like a house for the kids, with separate rooms. Usually the fort they set up went untouched because the beach was so sparsely used.

The beach is sandy and rocky then sandy again: sandy at first, then rocky (with barnacles) which made getting to the water tricky once the tide started going out, but once you got past the barnacles it is pure sand, “the kind your feet would sink into when you walked on it,” Teri remembers. Once the tide was out it seemed like they could walk for miles without the water getting any deeper, and the water was really warm: “That was my favorite time to be at this beach.” Since Cavalero is across from Stanwood, her family watched the fireworks on the 4th of July, back when Stanwood used to have its own fireworks show. “We sat in our boat and watched all the fireworks, which were extra spectacular because of how they would reflect off the water” she reflected.

But it is the stillness, the peacefulness of the place, that Teri remembers most. “The beach was very peaceful. The water was almost always still. It’s just a really special place. Growing up on Camano and being surrounded by water you don’t realize what you have. Now that I live away from the Island life, I realize how much the water comforted me. I would go to the beach when I was sad or upset and sort of let those emotions go out with the waves. There was just something so soothing about sitting by yourself on a piece of driftwood with your toes in the sand and a blanket around your shoulders, listening to the waves.”

Beaches of Camano Island: Camp Grande (II)

“It’s a refuge.”

Vicki Lund Anderson, a classmate of my mom, graduated from Stanwood High School (SHS) in 1964 and her husband in 1962. They met in high school when Vicki was fourteen and John sixteen. They married in 1967 and their first daughter Cindy was born in 1972 and graduated from SHS in 1990, three years after I did. Their other daughter, Kirsten, was born in 1974 and graduated from SHS in 1992. John and Vicki have been married for 49 years and have lived in the same house for over 40 years in the same area where they both grew up

They are charter members of the original group who purchased Camp Grande and have helped preserve it for future generations. Here is there story.

In 1974, a group of friends from this area pooled their resources and purchased a ten acre piece of property near Granite Falls with the vision of developing  the tract of land into a place of retreat for their families. However, at about the same time, the opportunity to purchase the closed Camp Grande resort arose, and the decision was made to sell the Granite Falls property to a group of airline pilots interested in investing in land. When Camp Grande came up for sale it brought back many happy memories to both John and Vicki. Both of their families had enjoyed stays in the little cabins when they were kids and had enjoyed fishing, crabbing, and smelting at that popular Camano resort.

Vicki remembers Edna Mellum’s Camp Fire group she belonged to was able to spend many fun times at the resort. Sherman and Ingrid Bast’s daughter Andrena was also a member of the troupe. The Bast’s hospitality enabled the girls to enjoy scavenger hunts on the beach, shell collecting, and overnight camp outs and sing-a-longs around the fire pit.

I tell some of Andrena’s story in an earlier article on Camp Grande:

https://sunnyshorestudio.com/2016/08/24/the-beaches-of-camano-camp-grand-i/

The original group of 40 shareholders, Pilchuck Association, was excited to look at Camp Grande as a possible investment. It was offered for sale at $213,000 in 1976, and though it seemed like a lot of money forty years ago, it has proven to be a great decision. But, first look at the resort it was evident it had fallen prey to vandalism and destruction while vacant. Vicki recalls that cabin sinks had been stolen as well as bathroom fixtures, and there wasn’t one piece of glass which had not been broken. Everyone had a vision of what it could become again if restored to its original state. Each of the families “adopted” a cabin to restore and repair. So the daunting task of restoration began.

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John picked out cabin 11 on the bluff for our family to work on and enjoy. Island County allowed them to return the resort to its original state. This included not only the cabins, but also the boat house and the long dock which had suffered many storms and were showing their age. Original pilings of the dock were the only recognizable features. Restore they did, all 24 little white cabins (and 24 RV spaces). Where the old house and store had been, they built a little community center which the families use for parties and gatherings. Many Stanwood high school reunions have been held there as well.

Pilchuck Association is a privately owned timeshare. Allotted usage time is determined by the number of shares owned. The more shares each family owns, the more use they have of the property. While the property as a whole is owned by all members, many of the families have enough shares to fill one particular cabin all year round. John and Vicki’s parents both owned shares, as did and aunt and uncle, brother, and close family friends enable them to have use of cabin 11 all year around. Yearly dues are determined by the cost of taxes, insurance and maintaining the property. Permanent caretakers, Doug and Debbie Dowd, work tirelessly on keeping everything ship-shape through the year.

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Vicki recalls how many years ago she stepped out of the little white cabin and heard a group of kids singing around a bonfire the same camp song, “Kum bi ya” that she had sung with her Camp Fire friends when she was young. All those old warm memories and feelings came flooding back.

So for forty years and four generations the Anderson family has enjoyed get-a-ways in cabin 11, from the time Cindy was a toddler and Kirsten was learning to walk. When I asked Vicki what it meant to their family she said this: “It’s like going on vacation even though it’s only twenty minutes away. It’s a place of refuge. For me, everything becomes clearer, the stresses of the day subside while gazing at the boats and water, and I relax. It’s a wonderful respite. I’m so happy that our daughters and our grandkids, Jonny age fourteen and Grace, age twelve, continue to enjoy Camp Grande. This beach property has many wonderful memories for us and I hope that will be the case for more generations to come.”

I’m sure they will!

PS. I want to thank who Vicki who came to Camp Grande and gave my wife Jenny, and son Julian, a tour of the grounds. Julian took these great photographs of the restored Camp Grande.

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Beaches of Camano Island: Point Lowell and the State Park

“This is our Park. This is our home where we grew up.”

Point Lowell juts out at the northern tip of Elger Bay marking the 240 acre Camano Island State Park with 6,700 feet of beachfront which is a hub for outdoor recreational activities including fishing, crabbing, boating, hiking and camping.

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Dad took me salmon fishing at Camano Island State Park. I remember driving down the hill that leads to the boat ramp, seeing the moon’s path on the glassy waters, launching our 16 foot Glasply boat, running west to Fox’s Spit on Whidbey Island or north to Rocky Point or just staying close and trolling up and down Cama Beach — all a sacred memories to me. Dad came in second place in one Twin City Salmon Derby. I write about that in my book I Remember Fishing with Dad.

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The original State Park was much smaller than it is now. At one time the road to the State Park did not exist. The original Park was created in one day in an event sponsored by the South Camano Grange. On July 27th, 1949, over five hundred community volunteers converted ninety-two acres of publicly-owned land into a public recreation area that has enriched many generations since. I did not know the story of how the State Park grew from its ninety-two to its current size. Kathy Emerson Shoop,  who grew up in the Park, told me that story.

Kathy’s dad is Al Emerson; the “Al Emerson Trail” at the State Park is named after him. Her “Daddy” as she lovingly calls him, was a Ranger first on Bainbridge Island; then at the Yakima Sportsman State Park; finally coming to Camano Island State Park where he was the first Ranger. That was in May, 1952. Al served as Ranger at the Camano Island State Park until he retired in 1973.

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When they moved her mother was very pregnant with her. Kathy, the youngest of three children, was born in July of that year. Her brother was 12 years older than her, her sister ten. Al worked in the Park, but since the Park Ranger residence was not built yet they made their first home in Stanwood in an apartment behind Ovenell’s Drive in. On the first floor there was the Twin City Auto Rebuild shop where they worked on cars. In the second floor apartment was the Emerson family who worked on parks. They lived in that apartment until they found a place on the Island between Indian Beach and Camano City.

 In 1954 the little two-bedroom brown house just inside the entrance to the State Park was completed and the Emersons moved into it. Kathy and her sister shared a bedroom, sleeping in a big double bed. Their older brother needed his own bedroom and so they walled in part of the house carport, brought in a heater, and that was his room. The little house became their home as did the Park.

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As I mentioned earlier, in those days the State Park was much smaller than it is today. It did not include Point Lowell. There was no road like there is today that Y’s to the left and ends at the boat launch. The big work day in 1949 spearheaded by the Grange had punched a road down to the bluff, created a big grassy area with picnic tables on the bluff with a parking lot, and a boat launch.  The big grassy area served as the camping area. Kathy remembers one night on the grassy area watching with other campers Sputnik travel overhead and everyone being scared. There was a huge popularity boom of camping in the 50’s and Al helped the Park folks understand they needed to build a larger camping area in the woods above the house. There they added over 40 campsites , an area where boy scouts camped each year, and an arboretum. Eventually the grassy area was turned into solely a picnic area.

Al not only was instrumental in developing more campsites, he played a role in the Park’s acquisition of the large piece of land that grew the State Park from 92 its present size. At one time Point Lowell, the land where the new campground is, and where the nature trail is was owned by a guy named C. Marc Miller and his company. Marc was a Seattlelite who worked for the company that built I-5 through Seattle. Mark’s job was to decide which houses came down, and to acquire the property from the owner. Kathy remembers that he was a nice guy with four boys.  The Millers had a vacation home on the beach between Breezy Point and Cama Beach and property above it (including the big barn to the right just before you enter the park)

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Al and Kathy’s mom Winnie were very gregarious, and her dad got to be friends with Marc. Kathy remembers Marc coming for coffee or a drink; she remembers going down to have dinner with the Millers. “Their boys were a lot of fun.” There weren’t a lot of kids living near the State Park in those days. So when the Miller boys came up for the weekend her dad would tell her “the Miller boys are up”. They swam together and played on rope swings in the woods. Marc and Al talked a lot. Marc was interested in selling the property to the State Park Department to keep it in its natural condition.  In his natural manner of friendliness and neighborliness Al connected Marc Miller to the Olympia State Park Office and played a big role in the State Park being what it is today.

In the fall of 1964, Kathy’s brother and wife Janet had a baby. The Emersons traveled to Ithaca, New York to see their first grandchild and, on the way, the east coast. They towed a 16” Cardinal trailer behind their car, camping for six weeks. Over those six weeks they visited a lot of campgrounds, and Al saw a wide variety of trailer accommodations. He learned about the growing culture of trailer ‘pull-through’ campsites, where the campsite is designed to host a trailer. So when he came back from his trip he lobbied that the new camping area that was being designed and built needed to have campsites for trailers.

Over the years Al oversaw a lot of change. And what is remarkable is that he did all of this as a disabled WWII vet.  Kathy’s mom and dad worked hard. Kathy, her brother and sister did too. For example, those  were the days before paper towels; the park restrooms were outfitted with cloth roller towels.  But—those towels needed to be washed frequently, so her mom, who worked at the Bank of Stanwood,  had to wash the cloth towels when she came home from work.

The Park was Kathy’s playground. She was a kind of park-rat, like an urban kid who plays basketball in the gym all day is called a gym-rat. She would eat breakfast at home and then be gone all day. Families camped for a week or two weeks and returned summer after summer, so she got to know the kids. “Dad would come back after registering campers and say, ‘the Adam kids are here’ and I knew I’d have playmates for a couple of weeks.”

“I would just leave in the morning, go swimming, eat raw clams, play in the woods, have a good time.” She was well known at the camp because she had red hair and was a tomboy. Campers would ask if she wanted lunch and she’d stay for lunch. She’d go home in time for dinner. “It was a great childhood.”

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I asked her what her perspective was on the Park providing public access to the beach for so many people over so many years. She said, “I don’t want to sound too political. But the Park is a place for anybody to come. Anyone can have waterfront property when they come to the State Park. It’s their waterfront property.” She appreciates that living in the Park she saw all the different people who came there. “No one talked about how much you made, or what you did,” she said. Kathy remembers that when important people came to dinner at their home and sat at our table in the kitchen she’d be scared because they were important. Her mom would tell her, “Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time.” The only thing that mattered was that the Park guests treated the park the right way, with respect. Kathy remembers one time arguing with some teenage boys who wanted to give pop rocks to seagulls. In that way she was something of a Park Protector.

 I asked Kathy what she felt about the Park now.

“As an adult it’s timeless to me. For the most part it’s the same park it was when I left it. It still makes me feel very safe and very small in the larger scheme of things. There’s a tree in the Nature Trail that was a seedling in the 1,300’s. When I was a moody teenager I would come to that Old Growth tree and sit and realize that my problems were pretty small, pretty meaningless. The Park means that to me, and to my brother and sister. I’m so grateful to the folks that created it back in 1949 and have preserved a part of the Island for time immemorial.”

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One of the last big family events before Al retired and left the park at the end of September, 1973 was Kathy’s wedding that took place in the middle of September. “I didn’t want to get married in a church, but in the Park that I loved so much,” she said.  The last big family event was in November 1987 when the family gathered in the Park for Al’s memorial service. The little brown house and the Park will always be their home.

Beaches of Camano: Mary Margaret Haugen

Islanders owe a debt to a number of pillar families who settled here, who worked hard to make a living out of the land, and who served the common good of our Island.  Past Washington State Senator Mary Margaret Haugen is a descendent of one of those families, and like her parents and grandparents before her, dedicated her life to serving the common good.

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Here is her story.

Mary Margaret’s paternal grandparents, the Olsen’s, were immigrants from Norway. Her grandfather was from the Lofoten Islands. They settled in Minnesota and soon moved to South Dakota. They came to Washington by train, having purchased land on Lopez Island.  There were no schools for their children to be educated on Lopez Island (they ultimately had 13 children, but only 12 when they were on Lopez). They wanted their children to speak English and very highly valued education. “So they loaded all their family possessions, their 12 children and a cow with a crooked horn on a scow (boat), came through Deception Pass and landed at Utsalady Bay.” There was another big family, the Irelands, at Utsalady at that time. Family legend has it when they landed there was a big fight between the six Ireland boys and eight Olsen boys.

Then began the hard work of reclaiming the land at Utsalady that her Grandfather had bought. It was logged over land, what is called a “stump farm.” The Olsen family proceeded to clear out the stumps. “It was tough life I’ll tell you. Grandfather drilled holes in stump, put hot coals in them, and started them on fire, burn the stumps out.”

In 1901 her grandfather built the barn. The family lived in an old shack near the barn until the construction of the barn was complete and eventually a house could be built.

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“People used to make fun of us because we lived on the Island. It was where poor people lived. It was nothing but stump farmers, loggers, fishermen and a few small businesses. Mary Margaret remembers being teased for living on the Island. She came home from school one day crying and her mother said, “at least we live on the north end!”

Mary Margaret remembers picking rocks. Her dad had a tractor with a sled behind it, She and her brother Thor would pick up rocks and throw them into the sled, trying to turn it into farmland. Her dad grew oats, hay, raised milk cows, beef cattle and chickens. They lived off the farm.

Mary Margaret’s Grandmother Constance Olsen died in 1917, her grandfather in 1919. They were both involved in public service. Her Grandmother was the first president of Utsalady Ladies Aid which was founded in 1908. In fact, the first meeting was in her house. Mary Margaret told me that the Utsalady Ladies Aid is the second oldest continuing organization in Island County. I asked her what the Ladies Aid did. She told me that there weren’t many people living on the Island at that time, so the Ladies Aid gathered these hard working women on common causes, like the religious education of their children (It was a non-denominational group. Lutheran ministers would come from Stanwood to participate). The women got together every month, alternating hosting at their houses. It was always very special to dress up and walk to each other’s homes. They held lutefisk dinners and made quilts together to earn the money to eventually build a hall. In 1924, a building was built for the Utsalady Ladies Aid, and Mary Margaret told me proudly that it was the first building (on Camano) put on the National Historic Registry. A very complex and difficult application process that Mary Margaret worked through with great success.

Mary Margaret’s maternal grandparents, the Huntington’s, came from pioneer stock and a well-known name on the Island too.  You may have stopped for groceries or fishing supplies at Huntington Grocery, owned by her Uncle Vernon!  Her mom was born in Oklahoma in a sod hut in what was then Indian territory, Cherokee Strip. The Huntington’s came to LaConner by train and took the boat to Utsalady in 1911. Mary Margaret told me back in those days the roads were in the water, people traveled by boat, and boats ran up and down the bay all the time in what was called the “Mosquito Fleet”. While they were still in Oklahoma her Grandfather had purchased land at Rocky Point, site unseen, to farm. They lost this land to taxes in the 1930’s.

Mary Margaret doesn’t know exactly how her dad and mom met. What she does know is that the Olsen family arrived on Camano in 1900, and the Huntington clan in 1911. She guesses her mom and dad met at Utsalady School; both sets of Grandparents were on the school board there.

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Mary Margaret was born in 1941 on the family farm in the house grandfather built. She had five older brothers: Melvin, the oldest, Richard, Howard, Robert and Thor, but she wasn’t spoiled. She worked hard and did her share of the chores. She remembers how they were able to live off the farm, and only needed to go into Allen’s Cash Grocery in Stanwood once a month. She remembers how WWII had quite an influence on her. By the time she was three years old, her oldest brothers had gone off to war. During those years here her dad worked in the Shipyard in Everett. She remembers how the mailman, George Hancock, would make an extra trip back to their farmhouse if there were letters from her brothers.  When her brothers came back they were able to complete high school and attend college because of the GI bill. Melvin was the first on either side of the family to graduate from college, Pacific Lutheran University (Pacific Lutheran College at that time).

Mary Margaret attended the first Kindergarten class offered in Stanwood and graduated from Stanwood High School. She knew my uncles Bud and Robert and my aunt Margaret and my mom Ann because they rode the same bus. At that time there were two buses that served all the kids on the Island: a west side bus (which she rode) and one on the east side.

She shared with me a story of how my grandfather may have saved her dad’s life when she was eight years old. At that time there were three doctors on the Island. Dr. Fisher, Dr. Anderson and Dr. Dodgson. Her father had a horrible heart attack. Her mother didn’t think he was going to live. Mary Margaret remembers being banished to her upstairs room, creeping down the stairs, and seeing her dad sitting in front of the stove his face was ashen. Her mom called the other doctors, but only Dr. Dodgson was willing and able to come and make a house call. He came all the way from the south end. When he saw her dad he called the ambulance and had him taken to the hospital. He was in the hospital for weeks.

(Here is a picture of my grandfather “Doc” Dodgson and his wife, Sayre.)

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When he came home, her dad had to further recover on a bed in the living room. During that period Margaret and Thor, “Tooty” she calls him, were farmed out to different family members. Her elder brothers came home during and helped run the farm in the place of their dad. They didn’t have medical insurance at that time. They spent all of their savings on hospital bills. All they had left was the home they owned. Gladly her dad did recover. After that, to make back the money he had lost, he started going to Alaska to fish in the summertime. And so did her brothers. Her oldest brother, Melvin, who is now 93 years old and living in Seattle; fished in Bristol Bay each summer till he was 85. Her dad actually died in 1961 in Alaska fishing.

“They were proud people. They believed you make do with what you have. You are only as poor as you think you are.” Mary Margaret said that after her parents passed away, she was shocked to see how little her folks had.

Though they had little this did not keep them, like their parents before them, from being very active civic leaders. Her father was Master of the Masonic Lodge, active with their church and served on the school board.  He also served for 18 years as Master of the South Camano Grange. The Grange was a gathering point for the Islanders, and deserves a lot of credit, Mary Margaret says, for their dedication to the community. The Grange had the vision for a state park on the island and led the charge for a huge work day in 1947 that created the Camano Island State Park. Mary Margaret was a little girl at that time and her brother and “all the Island” was there. In fact, the whole town of Stanwood shut down for the work party as well. It truly was a celebration of community coming together with everyone coming from the island and mainland, thanks to the organization of the South Camano Grange, to create a state park in one day. She had pictures from that day: one with her mother holding a big coffee pot to refresh the workers and one of Ed Bryant, who owned Bryant’s Hardware, who, along with other business owners from around the community, had shut down his store for the day to serve on the work crew.

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Outside of community organizations, her parents gave of themselves not just for their family but for their Utsalady neighbors, working together with the community when there were needs.  She was told that during the Great Depression no one at Utsalady went hungry. Her dad was a hunter and provided venison for his family and the community.

Her mom was president of the Utsalady Ladies Aid, which became a critical community hub where everything was centered and organized from. I’ve already mentioned how in 1947 they participated at the Camano Island State Park workday. Her mother was active in politics when she was young.

There is an interesting story that reveals the genesis of Mary Margaret’s personal commitment to public service. She was 16 years old at the time and her mother was active in the democratic party. At that time, when a legislative representative resigned there was a process whereby the party chooses three people to be a successor, from which slate one is ultimately chosen. A resignation happened in the 38th district (Camano was then a part of the 38th, now 10th legislative district) and her mother was one of the three persons chosen. Mary Margaret realizes now that she was only put on the slate as the “token woman” and that she didn’t have a chance to win. But something happened in Mary Margaret’s heart at that moment and she said to herself “I’ll do it”, meaning that she would serve where her mother had been turned down; in fact, she dreamed of being president of the United States from that point on.

But it wasn’t all hard work, politics and serious business on the island. They always went to the beach, and spent hours on the beach when they were kids. Mary Margaret never knew how her mother always knew what happened at the beach. Later on, when she had kids, Mary Margaret realized how it happened. “People called and told me what my kids were doing. People looked out for people’s kids. People cared for each other’s kids.”

After graduating from Stanwood High School, Mary Margaret went to Mt Vernon Beauty School. She wanted to get married and her mom had told her that she had to be self-supporting first, so she went to beauty school. She worked as a hair dresser for 30 years. Her first gig was working for Margaret Johnson’s beauty shop in Stanwood under the bridge going to the Island. She worked there for ten years. She did get married and had four children in 4 ½ years. In 1971, she followed in her grandfather and father’s footsteps and was elected to the school board.  She wanted to make sure every child could have remedial reading and because her mother had told her “If you don’t like what’s going on you have to get involved and make a difference.” Then she got elected to represent the school district as a representative at Olympia and lobby for the school board, trying to get full funding for education. “I think I can do this” Mary Margaret told herself. And she did.  Interestingly, she told me about when her father served on the school board, they made the decision to consolidate the Island Schools with Stanwood Schools, moving the schools off island.  Decades later, her own daughter MaryBeth would serve on the school board to make the decision to bring schools back to the Island.

How Mary Margaret decided to run for state office is an interesting story. During her years on the school board she participated in the Camano Home Owners Association. This Association gathered both people who had lived on Camano all their lives together with newcomers to the Island. “They helped us know how special it was, helped us value the Island,” Mary Margaret recalls. Two influential members of that association were Bill Dunlap and Duane Colby who told Mary Margaret that they would support her if she would run as a Republican.  About that same time her uncle Ransom brought his wife Irene to her salon for her aunt to get her hair done.  Mary Margaret was sharing about how she was being encouraged to run as a Republican. And her Uncle Ransom said, “Your mom would be so proud of you. You can win as a Democrat.” Mary Margaret wiped away tears when she shared this with me.

So she had to go back to Dunlap and Colby and tell them that she had decided to run as a Democrat: “That’s who I am” she told them. “So I ran as a Democrat. They still supported me. They knew I really wanted to represent this area.”

She remembers that in her first campaign she ran on 1,000 $20 dollar bills. After she won the primary, the Democratic Party offered to produce a mailing for Mary Margaret. “Well, ok. I said. I was so stupid,” she reflected. She told me that in those days mass mailings had to go out of your house. They brought the mailing to her; it was a hit piece about her opponent. She took it outside and burned it. From that day forward she never ran a hit piece about her opponent. She traces her integrity in office back to her Christian faith, believing that she would only ever run on who she was, not on her opponent.

In 1982, she was one of a number of women elected to the Washington State House of Representatives where she served for 10 years. She then ran for Senate, and took Jack Metcalf’s place. That was in 1993. She served the 10th district there till 2013. All in all Mary Margaret served for 30 years in the Washington State Legislature. For her people always came first. “I was the Representative from the 10th district before I was a Democrat” she says.

I was interested to learn about Mary Margaret’s role in preserving Camano’s beaches. She told me that at one time, every county road that went to the beach was public all the way to the beach. This allowed for the public to access every beach with a county road. But Island County Commissioners would petition to vacate them and they began to be sold off to land developers, “to the guy next door who wanted to buy it.” She told me that Arrowhead was an example of a county road being vacated. By 1954 counties all over the State of Washington were vacating these county roads ended at the beach; so legislation was passed at the State level that prohibited the vacation of roads to the water’s edge. “That’s why we have access that we wouldn’t otherwise have,” she told me.

She told me how Island Boom almost was vacated. They were going to vacate the land. But the locals who had been going over that land and using it for a long time, including the fire-department (this was the only real access to the Skagit Bay) gathered together and testified against it being vacated. Mary Margaret championed funding and the State of Washington came forward to purchase the land, thereby assuring it would remain public land.  The State then transferred the land to Island County, which paved the way for it to be the accessible county park it is today.

She shared with me how Sandra and Karen Risk had come to her with the desire to turn the family resort into a State Park for future generations to enjoy. However at that time the Washington State Parks had a very strict moratorium placed upon them and it was not possible for any land to be purchased. Recognizing the deep significance and treasure this piece of property was, Mary Margaret wasn’t deterred by the moratorium and approached Cleve Pennix, who was then head of the WA State Parks, and said, “I have some land for you to buy for a state park.” He told her that they weren’t buying any land at that time. Mary Margaret insisted, “You come and you see and you tell me you don’t want that for a state park.” Mary Margaret promised Cleve “You buy it, and I’ll make sure you get the money.” And that is how 500 acres, a mile of flat beach, and charming 1950 fishing cabins became Cama Beach State Park. The State was required to pay the market value for the land, but in a gracious act of community service, the Risk family turned around and donated back a substantial amount of that money, which allowed for the the new lodge and restoration of the cabins.

Even though Mary Margaret did not become the President of the United States, she did have aa big impact on Island County, and specifically Camano Island. She played a role in the preservation and development of Cama Beach State Park, Terry’s Corner, Iverson Spit, Heritage Park, Utsalady Ladies Aid Hall, English or Island Boom, the aquisition of Keystone Spit, creation of the Agricultural Scenic Corridor, 100+ year old rhodies on hwy 20 on Whidbey, Ferry House, Whidbey Island, Quilt Museum, Maple Hall in LaConner, MONA arts in LaConner (arts heritage of the community) WICA on Whidbey, LaConner boardwalk, Created the Office of Farmland Preservation and the Farmland Preservation Taskforce, Growth Management Act – tasked with protecting farmland, resource land, etc., Whidbey Game Farm, Langley fishing pier, Paul Luvera, Senior Memorial Hwy, helped granges and lodges be able to rent out their halls without risking their property tax exemptions, saved and preserved Greenbank Farm, improvements from I-5 to Terry’s Corner, including two new bridges to Camano Island, train stations in Mt Vernon and Stanwood, Reopening and preservation of Barnaby Slough, championed Ebey’s Landing – the first and only national historical preservation designation that protects and recognizes the agricultural heritage of the land, license plates for lighthouses, rhodies, all of which provide a funding stream and promote preservation, prime sponsor of legislation that directed state parks to place  “a higher status on preserving our historic structures and provides State Park employees training on historic preservation” and established the State Department of Archaeology & Historic Preservation.

Her mother would be proud.

I was proud to see that Mary Margaret had one of my paintings hanging on her wall, and one of my dad’s and sister’s too.

I thought how our family’s lives had been woven together on this beautiful Island in Washington State that we have lived on and loved for decades. And I thought that I wanted to be the kind of person that when there was a need I got involved, just like Mary Margaret had.

As I was walking out Mary Margaret said. “One thing about living in one place is that you know people, they know the good and the bad about you, and when you need help they are there. This has been a wonderful place to live my whole life; where my friends are lifetime friends; where I’m still friends with the kids I grew up with. It’s wonderful.”

Beaches of Camano: Painting Madrona and Sunset Beaches

Madrona Beach is just north of Sunset Beach, practically next door, with maybe a house squeezed in between. Like Sunset Beach it was once a fishing resort with a boat launch, boat shed, and cabins for rent.  They are not only great beaches to fish at, but also to paint at.

Sunset and Madrona beach were a paradise for artists. And my dad, trying to eek out a living as a full-time artist in the 1970’s and now as a retiree has painted those two beaches at least nine times.

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Here is the story of dad painting Sunset and Madrona Beaches.

Dad was painting for a one man (or solo) art show at the Frye Art Museum in Seattle in 1972. One day he was at Sunset Beach sitting on his stool and sketching the storage shed with boats in it when a man came up behind him and said “I’ll buy that.” It was Mike Little who  had grown up on Sunset Beach. That watercolor painting with the blue and white boats never made it to the show at the Frye; it hangs in Mike Little’s home on Sunset Beach.

A few years  later, Mike, knowing that they were soon going to be torn down, commissioned dad to paint the bait shack and storage shed for his parents Tom and Phyllis Little. That large painting with intricate detail captured a piece of history and hangs in their home on Sunset Beach.  It was thrilling for me to be invited this summer (2016) to take a look at that painting dad painted so many years ago.

In the third painting the storage shelter was predominant with the old bait shack behind. Dad finally got the bright sky at sunset just the way he wanted it, and sold it many years later to David and MaryAnn Keiser during a Mother’s Day Studio Tour.  The fourth painting was of the boathouse at Madrona.  It was sold a long time ago and dad says,  “It was really nice, really a neat scene”.

Dad was at Madrona Beach one day in the 1970’s. Some people had half a barrel full of live crab that they were cooking. Dad quickly sketched the crab in the barrel. Some time in the 1990’s he pulled that old sketch out and painted it and sold it at the Mother’s Day tour to Jane and Joe McGeehans. interesting enough, Joe used to be principal at Arsenal Tech high school in Indianapolis, the school that three of our children attended).

So when it came time to assign family members to paint Camano’s Beaches it made sense that dad chose Madrona and Sunset Beach. He painted a fisherman in a Sunset Beach rental boat …

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and a painting of historic Sunset from photographs that Mike Little gave him.

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He painted the Madrona Boat House roof with the Union 76 sign and also a view of Sunset Beach looking through and under the old dock at Madrona from old photographs he had taken in the 70’s.

I’m thankful that I grew up in a family of artists, with a paintbrush in my hands. And I am sure that after God calls dad home, many other aspiring artists and retired artists like him will paint the beaches of Camano like he did.

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