BAY VIEW — Growing up here in the ’70s, Dirk Rozema remembers a different perception of the bay that cozies up to this small, almost 130-year-old town.

The tidelands that make up Padilla Bay, stretching from Highway 20 to Hat Island, were consiered ugly and smelly at low tide, when the anaerobic soils give off a rotten-egg scent.

While the bay hasn’t changed much through the years, its perception certainly has.

Properties overlooking Padilla Bay are now listed as “waterfront,” and the odor coming off the bay at low tide, that’s now known to locals as the “smell of life.”

Terry Stevens, director of the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, said environmental movements to embrace the bay began to take hold in the late ’70s.

Soon, Padilla Bay was designated to become one of 28 estuarine reserves in the country and the only one in the state. Its abundance of sea grasses and wildlife, and the fact that it was primarily in private ownership and unprotected, put Padilla Bay at the top of the state’s list.

With federal funding, the reserve slowly began buying up the tidelands that had been parceled out to individuals and private companies over the years. There had been several proposals by that time to dike, drain and develop the bay into something else.

One of the most notable ideas was floated by a company called the Orion Corp., which had purchased some 7,000 acres of the bay by the 1980s with plans to turn it into a “Venice of the Northwest.” Those plans included building up plots of land for residences and farming separated by Venice-like canals.

A 1964 plan, depicted in a painting on display at the reserve’s facilities, shows the bay as a filled-in industrial park, with a deep water port located at Hat Island.

“None of these ever got done,” Stevens said.

Instead, Bay View residents worked to preserve the area. In the 1970s, Edna Breazeale, after whom the reserve’s Breazeale Interpretive Center is named, donated to the state the 64 acres of upland property on which the facility is located.

She was an environmentalist “years before it was fashionable,” Stevens said. At one point, Breazeale and another woman started buying up small pieces of the tidelands between those owned by the Orion Corp., thwarting the company’s plans to develop the bay.

Rooted in logging

The first settlers of the Bay View area were likely members of the Noowah-ah Indian tribe, according to historical accounts.

But, along with the Indians, contingents of farmers and loggers had all come and gone from the area before an Australian named William McKenna officially established Bay View in 1884.

The first dikes, rudimentary versions built with shovels and wooden wheel-barrows, were erected as early as the 1870s to dry out stretches of tidelands where oats, barley and potatoes would be planted. Many of today’s dikes were completed before World War I.

Struggling to keep their dikes in place against the tides and storms, some farmers by the early 1900s turned to logging Bay View’s bountiful forest lands. Some longtime residents, as recorded in a 1987 oral history, remember Padilla Bay being full of the floating logs that were transported by water at the turn of the 20th century, when logging in the area reached its peak.

Bay View also reached its peak of activity during that period, as loggers filled the town’s main strip of saloons and shops.

Photos of the old “downtown” show a row of clap-board structures along a muddy Bayview-Edison Road, where Rozema Boat Works stands today.

A fire that reportedly began at a saloon on the eve of 1910 destroyed six of the main buildings downtown. A group of loggers had been told that day there wasn’t any more work for them in the area.

A volunteer spirit

Gene Robbins, fire chief for Bay View Fire Department District No. 12 and a member for the past 28 years, said he doesn’t know much about the fires of Bay View’s past, joking that the 1910 fire was a little before his time.

The volunteer fire station began in 1958 when “a group of community members decided they needed to protect the community,” Robbins said. The station sits near what is the center of today’s town, with the Bay View Civic Hall next door and Bay View Methodist Church just down the road.

That’s where the district’s 23 firefighters — or as many as can make it — gather every other Tuesday night for training and drills. More than half of them showed up this past week to practice a rescue along the popular Padilla Bay trail that runs along the dike.

Benita Rozema is one of three women who volunteers for the district when she’s not raising her four young children. She said serving alongside her neighbors has given her a real sense of what community is about.

Lee Johnson, one of the other female volunteers, seconded that feeling.

“I wouldn’t know nearly as many people if I weren’t on the district, and I live right across the street,” said Johnson, who’s been volunteering for 13 years.

Finding community

Some who don’t even live in Bay View have found their strongest sense of community here.

Every Tuesday night, the Skagit-Anacortes Folk Dancers come from throughout the county to dance at Bay View Civic Hall.

During a recent Tuesday, the dancers joined hands in a circle some 30 people strong and stepped into a familiar rhythm as smiles spread across their faces.

They’re just here to dance, said Joel Johnson, an organizer of the group. The sense of community is almost tangible as they dance late into the night, their international music streaming out of the hall and filling the otherwise quiet street.

“We spend more time here than with our extended family,” Johnson said. “We have become a village all of our own.”

Others, brought to Bay View by work or retirement, have found an unexpected sense of community here.

Mark Olson first came to town for a job interview at the Interpretive Center, where he’s managed the growing fleet of aquaria there for almost 30 years.

He said locals used to derisively call the center “the bird house” as they muttered suspicions about what “the government” might be doing over there. Now, Clarence Rozema brings his grandchildren to see the underwater sea life featured in the tanks. Olson said many people are surprised to learn the colorful scenes are replicas of what’s in the bay just outside.

“He’s a gnarly-looking dude,” Olson said while pointing out one of his favorites, a sculpin fish, at the aquarium this month. His longish-blonde hair and vocabulary give him a Californian air, but Olson’s originally from Belgium.

Needing a place to live when he first arrived, Olson said someone told him Bay View “old-timer” Les Merritt had an old duck-hunting cabin that was empty.

Olson ended up staying there for seven years, paying “hardly anything” for rent. He soon met his wife, Carrie, at a Safeway store where she worked, and the two were married at Bay View State Park. They had their first child while living in that cabin.

A growing number of young families like them have moved to the area, Carrie Olson said. But perhaps her dearest friend — someone who’s made Bay View feel like home — is 83-year-old Ernie Morgan.

“We ended up here by chance, but Bay View is our community now,” Carrie Olson said.

Boats by the bay

When locals aren’t getting together for the annual potluck dinners, they’re often found gathering out-side Rozema Boat Works. The bayside boat manufacturer can draw quite a crowd when its crew begins moving around some of its 65-foot-long projects.

One morning this month, the sight of cranes moving three massive oil skimmers from the shop to the parking lot drew Joe Bucek from his house down the street.

Bucek, 70, moved here with his wife five years ago after retiring from his boat-building business in Seattle. When he needed a 22-foot wooden boat he’d built at his house turned over, he decided it was “time to go meet Clarence” Rozema, owner of the boat shop.

“They brought the crane over and turned it,” Bucek said, still shocked at the gesture that sealed a friendship a couple years back. “Ever since, every time I see him he invites me in to see what’s going on.”

Clarence and Barbara Rozema own the family business and live across the street, though these days it’s mostly run by their two sons, Dirk and Jason (who’s married to Benita). While much has changed since Clarence’s dad started the boat-building business here in 1955, much also has stayed the same.

“I’ve seen it change from a one-man shop to 13 employees, from wooden floors to cement floors. We started with wooden boats, then steel, and now it’s aluminum,” said Clarence, who’s 68 and still dons his coveralls every day, if only to oversee what’s going on at the shop.

When the family remodeled the shop in 2004, the Rozemas kept the original door to the shop that Clarence has been walking through since he was 12.

That door leads into the former Odd Fellows Hall that had served as a lodge and meeting place for the town around 1900. The wood shop next door had been an oyster company — before they realized oysters don’t fare too well in Padilla Bay.

Clarence’s dad, Alle (pronounced “Ollie”), moved his family from Holland to Bay View after an unsuccessful attempt to buy out his partners at a boat-building business in Anacortes.

The wooden boats his grandpa built were mostly for Alaskan fishermen operating out of Anacortes. The company still builds fishing boats, but about half of its business is building oil skimmers for spill-recovery teams.

The company even built a pair of boats for the Kuwaiti Navy last year, which it launched from Dakota Creek Industries’ deep dock in Anacortes. With smaller boats, a “launch” consists of waiting for the tide to come in and the boat to start floating.

The name game

Perhaps nothing binds Bay View residents together more than the frustration over being confused with other regional “Bay-views.” After all, around here, Bay View is two words, not one.

“It’s a sore subject,” said Mary Hall, who runs Bay View Civic Hall.

She said the Bay View State Park sign had the name written as one word for a while until residents made a fuss. One word is used, however, in the name of the road that runs through town, Bayview-Edison Road.

There’s also the issue of the “correct” pronunciation of its beloved bay.

Padilla Bay was first named after a Spanish explorer who sailed the Guemes Channel in the 1790s and claimed the area for Spain. The Spanish pronunciation is “Pa-dee-ya.”

But to locals, it’s always been “Pa-dill-ah.”

Employees at the Padilla Bay reserve use both pronunciations when they answer the phones. There’s even a “How to pronounce ‘Padilla’” link on the center’s website, which says that both pronunciations are correct.

But remember: If you want to sound like a local Bay-Viewer, there’s only one option.

And don’t make the mistake of spelling “Bay View” as one word.

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