An Earth Day Birthday

Washington State Parks turn 100


Baking cakes and putting candles in them is always nice. And handing out presents is awesome. But, as far as I’m concerned, nothing says “Happy Birthday” quite like throwing a kick-ass party.

Last month, our very own Washington State Park System—the fourth oldest state park system in the nation—turned 100.  If you’re interested in helping our State Parks mark their Centennial season, dust off your tent, get your boats/bikes/hiking boots spruced up and zip on over to any of the 121 individual parks scattered far and wide across our incomparably diverse, scenic wonderland of a state. A veritable festival of adventure and exploration awaits.

For starters, here in Whatcom County we have been gifted with a most extraordinarily well-endowed triune of awe-inspiring, state-owned parcels of open space—space that not only allows for copious amounts of world-class relaxing and recreating, but also serves to better and more meaningfully inform us about the unique blend of natural, cultural and historical resources that together, help shape the landscape, and the character, of this region.

In Blaine, literally straddling the United States/Canada border on the tranquil shores of Semiahmoo Bay, we have Peace Arch State Park, a 20-acre day-use area centered around the 67-foot Peace Arch monument. Just a quick hop, skip and jump—or brisk kayak paddle around Semiahmoo Spit—from there awaits the sublime shorefront resplendence of Birch Bay State Park, a 194-acre camping park crisscrossed with trails, dotted with a bevy of tent and trailer sites, camp fire rings, picnic tables and 8,225 feet of saltwater shoreline tailor-made for shellfishing, bird watching and as much barefoot splash dancing as your lower extremities can handle.

Meanwhile, just a quick cruise down State Route 11 south from Bellingham, you’ll find the lush coastal forests of Larrabee State Park (Washington State’s first state park, established in 1915), a 2,683-acre park with 8,100 feet of beach-laden saltwater shoreline, two freshwater lakes (Fragrance Lake and Lost Lake), an expansive, non-motorized, multiple-use trail system and the cloud-raking hump of Eocene sandstone, Chuckanut Ridge. 

For those adventure-seeking souls willing to travel a little farther afoot, on Whidbey Island you can lose yourself in Deception Pass State Park (a 4,134-acre marine/camping park harboring more trails, beaches and boat launches than you can shake a stick at), Joseph Whidbey State Park (a scenically situated, 112-acre day use area perched along the shores of the Strait of Juan De Fuca), Fort Ebey State Park (a 645-acre seaside gem featuring one of the most beloved, low-elevation mountain bike trail systems north of Seattle), Fort Casey State Park (a 467-acre marine camping park containing the fascinating ruins of a once-strategic, seacoast fortification that helped create a “Triangle of Fire”) and South Whidbey State Park (featuring 347 acres of jaw-dropping, coastal old-growth forest). 

Last, but hardly least, gleaming like bright, shaggy pearls among the labyrinthine channel waters around San Juan Island (Lime Kiln Point State Park) and Orcas Island (Moran State Park) awaits the true treasure trove of the entire Washington State Park System—a rarified grouping of marine parks accessible exclusively by boat. 

Along with shoving off toward the 564-acre “crown jewel” of the Marine Parks—Sucia Island State Park—you can aim your seaworthy vessel of choice at Matia Island, Patos Island, Turn Island, James Island, Jones Island, Posey Island, Skull Island, Stuart Island, Doe Island, Clark Island, and Blind Island. 

Our state park system might be a 100 years old but, fortunately for all of us, it is still alive and kicking, an enduring legacy of public access, outdoor adventure and ecological preservation that can, and should be, celebrated the whole year through.

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