Hikes: Earth Day at Smiley's Bottom
The wetlands as seen today from west of the high school, looking north across Smiley's Bottom to Volunteer Park. Guemes Island and Lummi Island rise in the distance.

Hikes: Earth Day at Smiley's Bottom

Once upon a time, there was a wetland surrounded by forests and beaches. The ponds hosted a diverse habitat of plants and wildlife that called it home for thousands of years. Tribal members lived on the beaches nearby.

It’s an oft-repeated story: new people moved into the area, cutting down the forests for houses and stores, building factories on the beaches, and plowing wetlands into farms. This new town they called Anacortes.

The town grew and grew. Houses multiplied, farms flourished. One farm in the lowlands below the high school was owned by a family named Smiley. Much of this farm had once been the wetlands. Eventually, some of the farm became playfields, and some of it grew back as forests and wetlands. All these lands became known as Smiley’s Bottom.


Photo: The farmland to the left of the second U  in Museum is now the wetland and woods being restored at Smiley's Bottom. The farmland to the right of that line is now Volunteer Park's ballfields and playgrounds. Skyline and Washington Park are at the very top of the photo.

In recent years, the north end of Smiley’s Bottom became Volunteer Park, a collection of formal ballfields and grassy play areas. The east end is now a large open grass field used for lacrosse, football, and soccer. The south side is returning to its roots as a forest and wetland.

As a hiding place close to the high school in the middle of the city, Smiley’s Bottom became a hangout for youth parties, vandalism, and garbage. Neighbors found a large fort built well off the beaten path, made with trees cut down from the nearby forest, with hundreds of beer bottles scattered around the party site. And neighbors noticed that the wetland, now protected by law, had park and school developments encroaching into the wetland. It became time to truly care for Smiley’s Bottom. School and Parks Department folks removed the fort and the stumps of trees that had been hacked down to make it. They hauled away beer bottles, fire pits, and old tires. Damage to the wetland was mitigated to begin the restoration of this precious and vital habitat. The trail through the wetlands and woods became formalized and modernized to allow trail use in all four seasons and to encourage public visitation.

Kath and I walk these trails often. Here in the middle of town, beneath the hill of the high school, amid dense neighborhoods and sporting events of all kinds, Smiley’s Bottom is once again becoming a healthy wetland world of its own, a haven of habitat, a sanctuary for wildlife that still calls this place home.

Today was Earth Day, 2024. The scent of cottonwoods filled the air as we walked to Smiley’s Bottom from Volunteer Park. Sunshine blazed, warming our hearts with the feeling of spring. Songbirds sang joyously – red-winged blackbirds in the tules, song sparrows in the alders, chickadees and even goldfinches in the canopies above. Ponds reflected the bright green of willow leaves, reeds, and grasses. Salmonberry flowers were changing into berries. Humongous skunk cabbage leaves rose out of muddy channels. Farther south we entered the hall of maples, the trail meandering through the wide open, drier forest just above the wetland. Ferns raised their fiddleheads to greet the spring. Pac wrens filled the airwaves with crystalline music.

At the southeast corner, I climbed the hill next to the high school. From this vantage point, I could look north over what was – once upon a time – nothing but wetlands and woods; which became farms, and then houses, playfields, and a big city. At my feet, in Smiley’s Bottom, nature is returning. A redtail hawk glided overhead; insects buzzed; life flourished.

The wetlands as seen today from west of the high school, looking north across Smiley's Bottom to Volunteer Park. Guemes Island and Lummi Island rise in the distance.

We hiked past the football stadium, down to the soccer fields of lawn grass, then back along the edge of the wetlands, once again teeming with the songs of critters in the key of life.


Directions: From 12th Street and Commercial in downtown Anacortes, go west one mile to G Avenue. Go left two blocks to the parking lot for Volunteer Park. The wetland trail starts at the south end of the ball fields.

By Bus: Skagit Transit serves this area with a bus route that leaves from 10th Street and R Avenue, arriving at 12th Street and G Avenue shortly thereafter.

By Bike: The roads in this area are relatively flat. Twelfth Street is busy with narrow shoulders. Use side roads to avoid the traffic.

Mobility: The pathways around the ballparks are mostly paved and flat. The trail through the wetlands is wide, firmly graveled, with very few obstacles, but it does gain elevation when you leave the wetland area. An out and back route is easier than the loop route.

Republished with permission. Read the original article.