Guemes Channel Trail and Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve

Recently, I walked a recently-opened mile-long section of the Guemes Channel Trail in Anacortes, which will eventually connect to the Tommy Thompson Trail. I also visited the nearby Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve, which is accessible from the end of a little cul de sac that can be reached from Oakes Road (to Glasgow Way to Edwards Way). SHIP is a work in progress with Phase 3, “an outdoor teaching and shelter with room for 30 students” left to complete. I arrived on a late morning during a high tide, parallel parked along the edge of the road and headed towards the preserve, which begins about half a mile from the Anacortes Ferry Terminal and extends to within a few hundred feet of it. The dirt trail was well groomed and lined with a wooden handrail along most of its length.

All sorts of plants were thriving, like ferns, fragrant Nootka rose bushes and mitreworts. I saw three super small, super cute kits hopping around in the bushes near the trail and when I returned the following day, the babies were nowhere to be seen, but I saw some adult rabbits.

Further along were more flowers in bloom, like Small-flowered forget me nots and and Common Stork’s-bills. At several places along the trail, which becomes a boardwalk on the western end, wooden platforms extend towards the beach. Near one were two cool things: an unusual bench and a sculpture entitled CORMORANT Drying Her Wings by Tracy Powell, which finally allows me to share this shot of one doing same viewed from North Avenue Park, which lies only a few miles to the east of this sculpture.

Closer to the ferry dock, barnacle-encrusted boulders were embedded in the sand near dozens of abandoned pilings. When I returned the following day, it was low tide and Canada geese, herons, gulls and crows fished from the water and the shore at that same spot. Wooden bird houses with wire spikes on top (to keep unwanted species away) were attached to the pilings. The gulls that hung around were obviously too big to pass through the doorways. Tree and Barn swallows seemed to be the house’s likely inhabitants. After the fact, I noticed a Belted kingfisher perched on a piling, scrutinizing the water below for prospective prey while swallows flew to and from their nests. The pilings had likely been part of what once existed at Ship Harbor, possibly a dock or cannery building.


After exiting the boardwalk, I followed the shore to try to access the terminal, but gave up after a few minutes and returned to the trail. I stopped at a huge marshy area with the remnants of cattails and yellow iris still in bloom. Barn and Tree swallows flitted and darted about, which made them too difficult to photograph.

I returned for a third day in hopes of getting another look at and better photo of a bird with which I was unfamiliar. I had no luck with that, but I did see a Rufous hummingbird and, something we see regularly but I don’t understand, a crow bugging a Bald eagle. As soon as the eagle landed on a tree branch along the marsh, a crow flew at it. The eagle took off with the crow, pesky-fly-like, in hot pursuit. Eventually, the eagle left the area. In the top right photo below, the little black spur near the eagle’s neck is the crow flying close. The bottom right shows the crow pursuing the eagle.

Guemes Channel Trail Ferry End

Opposite the marsh, lupines provided a bit more color.

I continued walking along the section of boardwalk leading away from the beach and meanders through trees, shrubs and plants. From a distance, I heard a very loud, unfamiliar bird call. My heart starting racing. I hoped that a fellow preserve walker would not show up and scare it away before I had the chance to see it. As I closed in on the source of the sound, I realized that there were two birds calling back and forth. One was deep in the bushes. The other, smaller than a robin, was cautiously scurrying along the edge of the vegetation. I suspected it was a Virginia rail, a bird I’d once seen but not heard along Dugualla Bay, and so had read about in my field guide. It had a long beak and a blue-gray head. I held perfectly still while trying to take photos without focusing to avoid scaring this super shy species, which, of course, didn’t work, but I share this collage of the three unfocused shots I took as totally lame proof of my bird ID.

Guemes Channel Trail Ferry End1

It disappeared after a few minutes and both birds went quiet, so I continued on my way back to the east end of the preserve, stopping to take photos of a shrub called Twinberry, for obvious reasons, a Douglas Fir, Thimble berry bush and one last thing, irresistible even though I know how reviled they are, a Tent caterpillar. Kids love to capture and pet them but adults despise them because they are so destructive to shrubs and trees.

After returning to the start point, I made my way east along the Guemes Channel Trail, paved with asphalt and lined with greenery.

The view of the coast was exactly as expected, but what I really wanted to know was how far it went. I didn’t have time to get to the end and had to turn back at about two-thirds of a mile, but returned and ran it the next day. My GPS watched clocked it at almost exactly 1.0 miles one way. At the far end, I could see the hull of a wooden ship that is now overgrown with weeds. A tip from Roadside America entitled Overgrown Ship claims, “A very old merchant ship that was scuttled so long ago (1966) that a small forest has taken up residence. The La Merced was a four masted schooner, commissioned in 1917. In the end it was turned into a breakwater by filling it with dredge; the woodlands are a natural byproduct.”

On the return trip, I observed a ferry docked at the terminal and hear a flock of what I think were European starlings flying around a huge Maple tree that extends across the path. Shrubs like this Western trumpet honeysuckle, which hummingbirds love, Salmonberry bushes, Stinging nettles, Sword ferns and other plants you’ll have to walk the trail to see for yourself covered the hillside. The trip through the preserve, then to the end (as far as was allowed) of the Guemes Channel Trail and back was 2.8 miles, or nearly 5K. I can’t wait for it to be extended further.

My advice: if you live nearby or plan to take the ferry from Anacortes to anywhere, schedule an hour or more to enjoy the Ship Harbor Interpretive Preserve and the Guemes Channel Trail.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s