Visiting Kukutali Preserve

In the past, I studied the Deception Pass State Park map many times in order to prepare for trail runs and hikes, envying Kukutali Preserve (Kiket Island) visitors because indicated below the name is this disappointing phrase, “access by reservation only.” Fortunately, the note no longer applies. According to information available at the Kukutali Preserve link on the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community site, “Kukutali Preserve is the first Tribal State Park in the history of the United States to be co-owned and jointly managed by a federally recognized Indian tribe and a state government…The preserve encompasses 83 acres spanning 3 islands with over two miles of natural shoreline, and is adjacent to 38 acres of Tribally owned tidelands.

On June 16, 2014, Kukutali Preserve was officially opened to the public…it symbolizes a coming of full circle for the Swinomish people, who now have access to traditional lands and tidelands and can, once again, guide the stewardship and protection of Kukutali for future generations.

Historic use of the area by the Tribe included shellfish gathering and beach seining for salmon. The traditional name of the area, Kukutali, means “place of the cattail mat,” referring to the temporary shelters of cattail mats erected at the summer clam digging and beach seining sites.”

On a sunny Saturday morning, I found and printed directions to the preserve as well as the trail map. (Find more important information at the Visiting Kukutali link, including, “People hiking only. No dogs, bikes, or horses.”)

Finding Snee Oosh Road was easy, the parking lot, not so much. I drove right by and had to back track. My biggest fear, beyond accidentally treading on territory that was not allowed, was that it would be packed with persons like me competing for peace and quiet. I arrived, at about 8:00 am, and realized I needn’t have. I was the only one there! The parking lot contained about eight parking spots, an ADA-compliant porta potty and an information kiosk.

I headed down the road, noting the conspicuous, “No pets allowed” and “No Bikes” signs. The preserve was dead ahead. Kiket Lagoon was to the right. Birds swam in it, but were too far away for me to identify. In Similk Bay, half a dozen cormorants and a couple of gulls hung out on a small floating dock. As I neared the preserve, a flock of cormorants flew over.

I checked out a sign that greets anyone who might enter the area by sea, “Tribal Tidelands No Harvesting.” Then looked back at the access road as I reached the island. I heard the call of a Belted kingfisher and Bald eagle.

Because I’d already read the rules and other information, knew I could choose between three trails, the North, South or Kiket (actually a gravel road) and headed to the right in order to hike in a counterclockwise direction. The plant life was much like I’d seen elsewhere in Deception Pass State Park. There were several types of lichen: dog, some sort of foliose, and blood-spattered beard. The trails were also similar to those that can be found in DPSP and the ACFL, very green with plenty of salal and ferns.

I kept my eyes peeled for fungi and moss, and found them. As I walked I tried to keep track of my position within the preserve, hoping to get my bearings. I was glad that I’d taken the counterclockwise route when I came upon an inconspicuous opening in the trees with a great view of the Deception Pass Bridge with Strawberry Island in the foreground. I continued on towards the west end of the preserve, noticing more moss and lichen. I got shots of a red flowering currant, a polypore fungi and a type of crustose lichen as I neared a large open grassy field where all three trails again converge.

Pink-tinged bright yellow mahonia was in bloom along the shore. The only birds I noticed were a pair of flickers. I knew that one of the most important rules was to stay on designated trails, so I proceeded towards the preserve’s limits with caution.

I was so scared of doing something wrong that I stopped well short of the barrier that blocks anyone who is not paying attention from attempting to enter Flagstaff Island, which is off limits. I turned around and made my way back to Kiket Island, crossed the field, took a look at the beach and hit the South Trail. It was extremely wet and muddy, which is probably why I found more fungi, (witch’s hair) lichen, mosses and ferns.

When I returned to the intersection of the three trails to the east, I decided to follow the road (Kiket Trail) westward to see what I might find. And was glad I did when I noticed three species of mushrooms that I’d never seen before. I noticed a Stropharia ambigua, which I’d also observed at Heart Lake and Mount Erie. When I reached the open field on Kiket Island’s west end, it was time to go. As I made my way back to my vehicle, I observed a loon and several mergansers in Similk Bay. Ninety minutes had passed since I’d arrived, during which I’d covered just over 2.5 miles from parking lot to parking lot. In order to hit all three trails, I’d followed a counterclockwise course from North Trail to South Trail to Kiket Trail (and back). Except for a few of the mushrooms, most of the flora and fauna here was familiar from hikes I’d done at Deception Pass State Park and the Anacortes Community Forest Lands.

I really enjoyed my first visit to the preserve, a peaceful place with great views.

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