Kiket an Island Again?

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From the earliest records and maps, we know that Kiket Island was always an island, connected at low tide to the rest of Fidalgo Island, but with water setting it free every high tide.

Neighbors recall seeing their grandparents rowing boats through the channel between Kiket and Fidalgo. Fingerling salmon used that connection to get to the lagoon and rest up as they transitioned to salt water and prepared for swimming through Deception Pass and beyond to the ocean.

The beaches of this area have always belonged to the Swinomish tribe, and their treaty with the United States did not change this. However, the uplands of the island, part of the reservation, were sold to various individuals after the Dawes Act of 1887 allowed tribal land to be owned individually. The island was eventually purchased by local pioneers and settlers.

In the 1920s the new owners of the area wanted easier access. So they filled in the tombolo beach that connected the island at low tide. The natural beach and occasional waterway became high and dry by the addition of a causeway. They lined both sides of the tombolo with rocks, and the land between was filled with sand and gravel to become a roadway connecting Kiket with Fidalgo. Kiket Island was no longer an island.

Owners could now drive onto the island at any time of the day or night. This allowed them to build a palatial house and resort-like grounds on the former island. Subsequent owners continued to use the causeway, and we still do today as our main access to Kiket.

However, the causeway is causing changes. Salmon struggle to get around Kiket to find the lagoon. Sand has built up on the south side of the island, changing the environment there, while the north side became starved for the silt of the Skagit and became a cobble beach with little driftwood along the shoreline.

Washington State Parks and the Swinomish tribe obtained the island through a variety of grants and other funding sources committed to protecting our shorelines for natural processes and use by the public. We recognized that the causeway was not natural, and was actually quite harmful to the shoreline processes and the marine area wildlife.

After years of studies as to what could be done and the probable effects of the various alternatives, State Parks and the Tribe agreed to remove the causeway and restore the natural processes at the east end of Kiket Island.

What does this mean? What changes will it bring to the island, to the beaches and wildlife, and to public use?

First of all, obviously, Kiket Island will again become an island as it used to always be. But not very often. The sand spit will still connect the island with Fidalgo, so water will breach the spit at only the highest of tides, and even then with little current and mostly shallow water.

Salmon will again have easier access to the lagoon. Sand and silt will again cross the channel to restore the health of both beaches. Logs will move through during storm events, and be pulled away by other storm events.

Access to the island will be limited for only a short time, mostly in the winter. In the summer, the higher high tides are mostly at night. During the winter, they are during the day, but they can easily be planned around in walks out to the island and back.

Many of the high tides don't even get that high. And the worst case would be someone may have to take off their shoes and socks and walk across if they can't wait for the tide to go down. Of course, nature will modify it through the years; logs will fill the gap and have to be moved aside a little to keep a path open. Storms will carve out the channel, only to see it fill in again as currents bring back the native sand and gravel.

Lone Tree Point to the south has a beach that is nearly identical to this one, with the highest tides going across the access to the point. It has worked well, as visitors just plan their hike to make sure they are not on the point at the highest of tides, or they just wear boots.

Sometimes change sounds more foreboding than the reality actually is. I hope you find this change to be a valuable restoration of the beach and a celebration of making Kiket Island an island again. It will remove a very smooth roadway from that section of the trail, but that roadway is not supposed to be there. In its place will be a natural beach, easily crossed at all but the highest of tides.

Permitting is now nearly complete. Removal of the causeway may happen as early as this summer, de- pending on when the work will cause the least disruption to salmon and other marine species. Humans will be able to access the island with minimal disruption during the construction, we hope, but the details re- main to be worked out.

We have had great success restoring the Cornet Bay shoreline, and Bowman Bay’s shoreline is in its second year of success as well. Bring Kiket back to health will be a remarkable trifecta of beach restoration achievements in the Deception Pass area.

Let’s see what we can do to make our beaches work for all of us.