Visionaries inspired by Camano Island’s natural beauty have joined forces to create parks that preserve and protect wildlife habitat.
About 70 Camano Islanders passionate about their parks packed the Island County Multi-Purpose Center for a Town Hall meeting Thursday, May 23, hosted by Commissioner Janet St. Clair.
The presentation drew upon the expertise of state park rangers, public works officials, and Whidbey Camano Land Trust representatives and residents who lead volunteer park groups. They shared history about many Camano parks and current work with a focus on Barnum Point County Park.
Camano’s gem of a park is a coordinated effort between Island County commissioners, Barnum property owners, Camano Island residents, FOCIP, Nature Conservancy and Whidbey Camano Land Trust.
Commissioner St. Clair said the county supported park visionaries starting in 2012 with former commissioners John Dean and Rick Hannold, then commissioners Jill Johnson and Helen Price Johnson. Leadership brought the vision to fruition.
Carolin Barnum Dilorenzo attended the Town Hall. She said her grandfather, Sterling Jones Barnum, paid $1,300 for 130 acres in 1904 and raised his children there.
For more than 100 years, the land remained in the Barnum family, divided into tracts through the generations. But in 2016, the time had come for the third generation to sell some of the tracts to the county for a park.
In 2012, the county worked with Nature Conservancy to purchase a 27-acre, L-shaped forested parcel from Barnum descendants, the Stay family. In 2015, other family members offered to sell an adjacent 35-acre parcel.
“Then the (Whidbey Camano) Land Trust got involved and everything started to happen,” Island County Public Works Director Bill Oakes said.
The Land Trust secured a bridge loan from The Conservation Fund to purchase this second property and held it until funds could be raised.
“This was a big project for us and for the county,” said Ryan Elting, Land Trust conservation director and point person for the park expansion.
Barnum Point land acquisition became a priority because of its important habitat near shore and maritime coastal forest. Landowners already had a preserve there. Island County, Land Trust, FOCIP and the Barnum family forged a partnership to protect habitat and build an amazing park to give people access to a coastal experience, he said.
In 2016, the Land Trust led a community campaign that raised $750,000. Val Schroeder’s high school class won a $10,000 Make a Difference award, choosing Barnum Point as the cause to receive it. Elting said the teens’ contribution “brought grant evaluators to tears,” which may have been the reason the county got a Salmon Recovery grant.
More tracts were acquired in rapid succession, including beach access and tidelands with help from grants.
To get the land ready as a public park, an old beach house was sold and barged to a new location. Re-Use Consulting dismantled the Inn at Barnum Point, putting components on the market for reuse. Austin’s Lend-A-Hand removed concrete foundations and made the grounds look like a house had never been there.
The 40-acre Holly Farm was acquired last year from the Leavitt family, expanding the park from 27 to roughly 169 acres, Oakes said.
Jim McDavid, the county’s Camano parks lead, said the county is building a new parking lot and trail extension there. A pond will have limited access as soon as the parking lot is finished. A new parks shop will make use of an existing structure.
Holly removal is on the work list. This property contains “the mother colony” of this invasive species, which has already spread to the other property, he said.
The work list for Barnum Point park includes benches, kiosks, signage and a vista platform, perhaps a wheelchair accessible trail, but not to strict ADA standards. Work planned for 2022 and beyond includes west beach stairs and a restroom. For now, porta-potties will be placed near the parking area while County determines use and needs, St. Clair said.
The Holly Farm pond was a heron breeding area, according to an audience member. Eisenberg said the herons are not there this year, but he’s keeping an eye out for them.
Val Schroeder, a retired teacher and Camano wildlife project coordinator, said they’d been told it would be a low impact park. But in looking at the plans, she was uncertain.
“Will wildlife be protected in the park? I want to make sure,” Schroeder said.
Elting of Land Trust said the property used to be crisscrossed with many trails. A significant amount of old trails have been removed, leaving more of the forest intact. Since it’s a half-hour jaunt from the parking lot to the point, it’s less likely to attract party crowds, he said. When a park is new, it gets a lot of attention, but that eventually settles down.
Residents in the Barnum Point and Iverson Trail areas said people misusing both parks have impacted the residents by parking on the streets and using Iverson beach after hours, especially for the Fourth of July.
McDavid said the parks close at dusk. If people are there, neighbors can call 911.
“We’ll continue having Town Hall meetings so we can listen to one another’s concerns and address them as a community,” St. Clair said. “We as neighbors and visitors have to be respectful with one another and help people be aware of their impact on one another; then we can get along.”
Friends of parks
Tom Eisenberg, president of Friends of Camano Island Parks, shared a brief history of this citizens’ group that has been instrumental in building trails and obtaining parks.
In 1990 when the Cama Beach property became available with 450 acres of upland forests and a mile of beach, a group of Camano Island residents lobbied the state to buy it for a state park. They called themselves Friends of Cama Beach.
Once that endeavor was accomplished, the team said, “Now what?” They regrouped as Friends of Camano Island Parks and worked to develop and maintain trails and support gaining more parks. FOCIP’s efforts were instrumental in the expansion of Barnum Point County Park.
Of the trails on Camano Island, 90% were constructed or are maintained by FOCIP, Eisenberg said. It’s all done with volunteer work and donations. Members install kiosks, benches and platforms. They maintain trails and remove fallen trees. They also organize nature walks and educational projects.
“We have about 250 members and over 60 active volunteers of which around 20-30 will show up for our Tuesday work parties,” he said. FOCIP maintains 12 properties on a regular basis covering an area of 1,600 acres with more than 20 miles of trails for the public to enjoy.
“Get out and walk the trails!” Eisenberg said.
Learn more at friendsofcamanoislandparks.org.
Mike Nester spoke about Freedom Park, a popular feature at Terry’s Corner with a fantasy playground and grassy area with sculptures. A volunteer nonprofit organization with a four-member board runs this community-based park on about $11,000 per year to cover insurance, taxes, mowing and repairs.
Renting out the reader board brings in $15 per day, Nestor said.
Building the park was an adventurous undertaking. Planning the park took about a year, and then in 2010 the park was built in a week.
During that week, surveyors plotted where to put all the towers, slides, swings, monkey bars; you name it, Nestor said. A posthole digger followed, preparing more than 300 three-foot deep holes to plant all the supports. People brought routers, drills, sanders and other tools that were inventoried and organized in sheds. On the weekend, 1,000 volunteers built the park.
This popular park gets a lot of wear and tear from all the kids coming through. Funds are needed to maintain the park, which hosted the Beer, Brats & Biz event on June 1.
“We met for almost a year to come up with a plan to build the park. Now we need another plan: how to keep the park from falling apart,” Nestor said.
To donate, visit FreedomParkAssociation.com.
Two years ago Freedom Park on Camano Island was on the brink of closing.
“Camano has two state parks; both exist because of this community,” Ranger Jeff Wheeler said.
Both state parks are busy year round with camping in tents or cabins, fishing and boating. Every year in May, more than 200 second-graders were bused to Camano Island State Park for Discover Days, with activities to learn about the forest and beach. Cama Beach State Park has a busy café. Summers at are filled with guided activities every week.
n Camano Island State Park is a 244-acre camping park with 6,700 feet of rocky shoreline and beach.
The original park site was “built in one day” July 27, 1949, after securing 92 acres that had been a school tract. Twin City News reported the next day that hundreds of people worked to clear underbrush, fell trees, remove rotting logs, build trails, set up service buildings, fire pits and picnic tables. Grange women served clam chowder, baked beans and coffee to hungry workers.
The original 92-acre tract is the beach area to the right of the park’s first stop sign. It grew to include all of Lowell Point in the 1950s. It’s still growing; 10 more adjoining acres were added in mid-May this year by a neighbor who had dreamed of their property being part of the park, Wheeler said.
n Cama Beach took a little longer to become a state park.
The on-site Cama Beach Resort was busy with cabins, boat rentals, a store and a grand hall. Leroy Stradley hired unemployed men during the Great Depression to create this destination for vacations. His daughter, Muriel Risk, was still operating the resort until 1989.
After Risk passed away, the third generation, the Hamalainens and Worthingtons, worked to make it possible for the state to purchase the extensive property with beachside cabins. When land became available in 1992, Friends of Cama Beach formed to lobby the state to acquire it. Work started in 1995 to build roads and repair cabins and it opened in 2008, Wheeler said.
Three years ago, Cama Beach State Park bought 31 acres of adjoining land, gaining the entire stream from Cranberry Lake down to Saratoga Passage.
“We now have the entire watershed to protect,” Wheeler said.
This was the most pristine watershed in an Island County study a few years back, he said.
The park has 486 acres with 6,700 feet of rocky shoreline.
Stanwood parks update
Last month, Stanwood announced it is seeking bids for demolition and cleanup work at Ovenell Park, at 10520 Saratoga Drive at the west end of town along Highway 532. Bids are due Thursday. The city hopes the winning bidder will removeconcrete foundations, concrete pilings, wood utility poles, and tires and wheels.
City officials don’t have a date Ovenell Park — or nearby Hamilton Park — will be completed. Instead, they will be developed in stages as funding allows.
Meanwhile, the city is looking to buy 11 to 14 acres to expand Heritage Park.