Hikes: Not Man Apart

Do you recognize the location of the picture above? It doesn’t look like this anymore, not since the Fifties when it was bulldozed and graveled to become a parking lot. If you build it, they will come, and indeed they came to West Beach in Deception Pass State – so many cars that the lot was soon paved. Now visitors could drive right up to the edge of the beach, swim in Cranberry Lake, and walk to the restroom plopped between the two. I patrolled this parking lot daily for many years, amazed and appalled that we had transformed the dunes habitat into a habitat for cars.

But things changed this year. Oh yes. It was only a matter of time. The seashore is a living force. This winter, a storm raised its voice and tore into the lot, breaking up half the pavement and burying it under a driftwood jungle. 


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Before and after pictures from the same place, the first picture in summer 2010, the second in summer 2024.

What’s left of the parking lot opened to visitors this weekend, but word of its opening hadn’t gotten out yet. Even on this sunny Sunday afternoon, several parking spaces were still available. Kath and I parked there, and then stepped over and around the log-strewn remnants of the parking lot to walk south to the Dunes Trail.

Despite that winter storm, the remaining wild dunes to the south look as they always have for centuries, flowers spreading across the sand, driftwood rearranged as new habitat, trees wind-sculpted but standing firm, a diversity and abundance of wildlife at home here. Waxwings, grosbeaks, various swallows, a yellowthroat, siskins, red-winged blackbirds, song sparrows, fledgling woodpeckers, and an eagle graced our walk with their songs and winged flights.

We hiked the half-mile loop slowly, humbled to see the famous ancient tree near the trail, intrigued by the tenacity of bright flowers and microscopic vegetation thriving on hot dry sand, then quieted as we entered the backdune forest, birds preening and feeding all around us, the wetlands beyond a menagerie of plants, insects, birds, and stability. The dunes are a place of refuge and regeneration for its residents, and for visitors like us.

We smile knowingly when kids build sand castles in front of a rising tide. The inevitable is humorously obvious. 
​And yet look at what we as adults do.

Eventually the trail circles back to civilization: swimmers, picnickers, the beats of music, the restrooms a busy beehive humming with people going in and out. We were back at the beach with its cars, sand castles, strollers, and sunbathers. Near the parking lot, a park interpreter displayed a table of the bleached bones and baleen of a Gray Whale, once endangered here, now recovering in numbers.

Humanity has often viewed itself as the sculptor of the world, shaping the environment to its will, even building parking lots on the crest of a beach. The damage we see here is not something to repair but a call to get our attention. Nature is speaking, urging us to harmonize our actions with the rhythms of the Earth.

In the end, nature’s final word is a narrative that continues with or without us, that outlasts the ephemeral footprints of human endeavor. As we grapple with climate change, it becomes clear that nature’s dialogue is not one of surrender but of adaptation and cooperation. As stewards of this park and planet, it is our responsibility to listen and respond in harmony, ensuring that the story of nature—and humanity—goes on.Not man apart from, but humanity a part of our natural living planet. 
I dream of seeing the West Beach dunes fully restored someday. It's just an impossible dream, I know. Still, I dream.


Directions: Take Highway 20 to the Cornet Bay Road intersection, and enter the park to the west. Drive to West Beach if you wish, or park at the east end of the lake and walk an extra mile to get there.

By Bus: Take bus 411W from Oak Harbor or March's Point to the park entrance one mile south of the Deception Pass bridge.

By Bike: Highway 20 is narrow, busy, and high speed, so be careful!​

Mobility: The Dunes Trail is fully paved, relatively flat, and fully repaired after the storm.

Republished with permission. Read the original article.