Hikes: Where the Sidewalks End
We were the first registered hikers in nearly two weeks. What a treat people are missing out on.

Hikes: Where the Sidewalks End

Just $40,000.

When the Army declared Fort Casey to be surplus, Seattle Pacific College recognized the site's potential to become a center for educational and recreational activity. They purchased the northern half of the fort in 1956. This area, now called Camp Casey, included officers' houses, soldiers' barracks, dining facilities, an auditorium, and a gymnasium.

Skeptics called the purchase "Watson's Folly”, mocking the decision of the college’s president, C. Hoyt Watson. The total price he paid for this low-bank waterfront property on Whidbey Island – just $40,000. Add three more zeroes for its value in today’s market.

Looking at Google Maps, I saw a fort battery just north of the buildings, hidden in the woods. Storm clouds were breaking up, the promise of a sunny day coming our way. “Let’s go check it out,” I said to Kath. And while we’re there, let’s walk into the Admiralty Inlet Preserve just north of it. “Sounds good!” she said.

Being privately owned, drop-in visitors are required to register to walk the property. We stopped at the office, open 8 – 5 on weekdays, and met Jake, who greeted us warmly and had us sign the guest register. We were the first registered hikers in nearly two weeks.

What a treat people are missing out on.

We followed the sidewalk north between the fort buildings until the sidewalk became a dirt road going uphill. At the top, the road swung west – and there it was, a two-turret gun emplacement, the view becoming overgrown but the structure still intact.

Walking further north, it wasn’t long before we came to a turnstile gate, the entrance to the Admiralty Inlet Preserve, right next door to Camp Casey! A trail loops around the Preserve, providing a three-mile loop to explore. Jointly owned by the Department of Natural Resources and Whidbey Camano Land Trust, the 86-acre property is permanently protected and will remain forever wild.

Picture centuries-old windswept Douglas firs along the bluff edge, multi-storied forests behind them, the wind whispering in the treetops, a chorus of birds harmonizing with their sweet voices, the sunlight dappled on the dark earthen trail, the spring air fresh and fragrant. Around every corner is a new delight: a fir with octopus arms raised to the sky, salmonberries in full flower, a chipmunk feeding in a rosebush, an orange-crowned warbler dancing from red alder to blueberry elder.

And then the view drops away in front of us, stunning in its drama of headlands and beaches stretching for miles.

Eventually, we came to green prairies spreading before us, just now springing forth with the diversity of what once covered swaths of the Whidbey Island countryside. The two prairies (less than one percent of Whidbey Island’s original prairies remain) are home to a population of golden paintbrush, two of only twelve sites in the world where this endangered prairie plant occurs naturally.

The trail then leads to a parking area across the highway. We turned around here, and followed our footsteps back, hugging the prairies, the bluffs, the views, the windy woods, the wildlife chatter, the warmth of spring, and the joy of being alive in this time and place protected and available for us all.

Wandering back to Camp Casey, we strolled westward past the officers’ houses to where the sidewalk ended at the beach. Waves rolled in from last night’s storm. Seagulls, eagles, and hawks were hang-gliding above the bluffs in the onshore breeze. The officers’ houses watched in silence.

Just $40,000.



Directions: From Highway 20 in Coupeville take Main Street south, which turns into South Engle Road. Turn into the camp at the north end of the large mowed grass field. Park near the office and sign in, or call ahead to make sure you can visit.

There is also a parking area for the Admiralty Inlet Preserve at the north end of the Reserve before S. Engle Road starts to drop down to Fort Casey. From this parking area, you can also walk to Rhododendron County Park 3.5 miles to the east. Or travel 1.5 miles to the Prairie Wayside to the north. The trail crosses Land Trust-protected conservation easements. These working farmland properties are privately owned so be respectful as you travel the trails.

By Bus: This entire area is accessible by Island Transit.

By bike: There are many side roads around the Fort Casey area that are delightful for biking; roadways are narrow, so watch your mirrors, and there are ups and downs.

Mobility: The sidewalks at Camp Casey are mostly flat and mostly in good shape, until they end. The roadways are rough. The trails are well maintained, but narrow in places and with tree roots. There is considerable slope at times.

Republished with permission. Read the original article.