Island near La Conner is newest state park

2010-07-15T21:10:00Z Island near La Conner is newest state parkBy Lynda V. Mapes / The Seattle Times Longview Daily News

KIKET ISLAND, Wash. — It is the park that almost didn't happen, on a tiny island with a lot of history.

Meet Kiket Island: a 96-acre gem in Puget Sound, just northwest of La Conner. Washington's newest state park is a largely undeveloped, pristine jewel of forests and more than two miles of unspoiled beaches.

The island, pronounced "kick-it," was purchased last month with $14.3 million in state and federal grants and money from the Trust for Public Land, raised with help from the Trust for Public Land. It took two years of negotiations to swing the complicated deal, in which the island will be co-owned and co-managed by the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community — the original owner of the island — and state parks.

The property — which will be open for limited public use as soon as an access plan is worked out — includes 84 acres of Kiket and Flagstaff islands and 12 acres on the Fidalgo Island mainland, with vast views toward Deception Pass and Whidbey Island.

The new park has yet to be named. And while it will be open to the public, access will be restricted to protect the island's fragile environment from being loved to death. Although the access plan hasn't been worked out, this much already has been agreed to as part of the purchase and ownership agreement:

There will be no overnight camping or public hunting, fishing or shellfish gathering at the park, and access will be only by hand-powered craft, docked at areas to be designated on the beach for that purpose. No powerboats or Jet Skis will be allowed to dock on the island, and with some exceptions, only non-motorized and electric vehicles will be allowed.

"It feels so good to be back here," said Brian Cladoosby, chairman of the Swinomish Tribe, stepping on the island last week for the first time in decades.

While it lies entirely within the boundaries of the tribe's reservation, the island passed out of tribal ownership when it was sold by individual tribal members to a Seattle mill and mine supply company in 1929.

The Seattle City Council next purchased the island, voting 40 years ago to buy Kiket for a $250 million nuclear-power plant. One of the plant's many benefits, the utility boasted in a promotional flier, would be warming up the waters of Puget Sound with discharge from the plant's cooling towers, creating the opportunity for comfy swimming year-round.

After public outrage, the plan was dropped in 1972, and the island was next acquired by private owners, Wallace Opdycke and Nancy Corbin. The tribe fervently wanted to buy the island back then and had first option to purchase it — but couldn't swing the $1.4 million price. This was back in 1982, before the tribe had its casino or much other economic development to speak of. "It might as well have been $1.4 billion," Cladoosby said.

The state had long wanted to acquire the island as well, for a park, but never had a willing seller — until 2007, when Opdycke and Corbin contacted it about selling Kiket, which was still largely undeveloped, as a public park. The state leapt at the chance, before another private buyer could purchase the island and potentially subdivide it for homes.

After more than a century of development proposals that included subdivisions and a nuclear plant, the public and the tribe have another chance to enjoy the island, which, remarkably, has survived all the transitions largely intact.

The tribe and state will co-own the uplands. The tribe, however, will retain its sole ownership of the tidelands, which it reserved under the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855 and never relinquished. The tribe alone will be allowed to harvest shellfish from its tidelands.

While there is a road to the island, there are neither parking nor restroom facilities, forcing a go-slow access plan, as a management committee created to set policy for use of the island determines how much use to accommodate and how to provide facilities.

The one house on the island may be converted to a museum. Policies for management of the island will be set by consensus of a six-member board, with half of its members designated by the tribe and half by state parks.

The state and tribe will split the operating costs for the park — a blessing for the state, which is so strapped for cash it is turning over some small parks to local communities and laying off staff. (The island was acquired with grants that could be used only for that purpose.)

As badly as the tribe wanted the island back, it took a personal call last winter from the governor's Chief of Staff Jay Manning and General Counsel and Chief Adviser Marty Loesch — who used to work for Cladoosby — to restart negotiations, which had completely broken down over tribal ownership of the tidelands, Cladoosby said.

"It teaches persistence," Cladoosby said, standing on clamming beaches his people had been excluded from for so many years. "It's been a long time coming. It's unbelievable, just the thought of owning this again, after everything the island has been through."

Larry Fairleigh, parks-development director, who helped negotiate the agreement, said he hopes the deal can be a model for the future. "It is a unique property, kind of like a last chance, and part of our responsibility is to look out for future generations.

"They will be glad we did this."

Copyright 2015 Longview Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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