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kayak-webRISMEDIA, July 31, 2009-(MCT)-During the summer, when every Seattleite and their visiting mother-in-law seems to embrace the great Northwest outdoors, you can often hear the day-trippers in the parking lots and on the trails before you even spot them.

The stampede of feet rattling along the gravel paths. The echoes of large groups chatting, and barking dogs drowning out the tranquility.

But rest assured, you will always have Hope Island.

That’s because few tourists-or locals, even-have heard of this state marine park. Or they confuse it with the Hope Island by Deception Pass.

Nestled between Shelton and Olympia, this South Sound park remains one of the area’s best-kept secrets, a poor man’s San Juan Islands day trip and a favorite with many sea kayakers.

This park, a hot spot for bird-watching, clam digging and mushroom hunting, enjoys anonymity for several reasons. The once-private island didn’t become public until 19 years ago, and it’s only accessible by small boat. It’s about a two-hour trip to Hope Island from Seattle: an hour to the launching dock of Boston Harbor, north of downtown Olympia, and another hour to kayak to the island when the tides are out.

Gerry Hodge, founder of the South Sound Area Kayakers Club, leaned back on his kayak, as if relaxing in a La-Z-Boy on our recent trip to Hope Island. “There’s no one here because everybody goes to the San Juans,” he said. “That’s why it’s never crowded.”

Sure, we spotted three-story houses along the banks on our way, but the area seems like some forgotten coast. So few folks fishing, hardly anyone frolicking in the sun. Instead, we heard flocks of seagulls on both sides of the shores. We saw about a dozen harbor seals wallowing on the dock of Carlyon Beach.

It’s not the next San Juans, of course. No five-star resorts in the South Sound. No stores selling T-shirts or trinkets. In fact, no vendors selling anything. The 106-acre Hope Island, sandwiched between a tiny, residential island and a reservation, remains mostly undeveloped.

But the trade-off is the promise of tranquility.

As the tides pushed us closer to Hope Island, I could see part of the 1.5- mile stretch of pebble-and-sand shoreline, a hotbed for geoducks and clams in the spring.

Once ashore, we headed inland. A second-growth forest of towering cedars, Douglas firs and some surprising Pacific yews awaited, with bald eagles, woodpeckers and a dozen other species hovering above. There are orchard trees near the shore, but the real bounty, a park ranger once told me, is found below, all across the island: chanterelles, oyster mushrooms and morels, a well-kept secret for seasoned mushroom hunters. We hiked along the two-mile interpretive trail, a flat path manageable for children and seniors, with five exit points to the beach. On a clear day, you can see Mount Rainier from the south and east side of the island.

Because the island is so small and quiet, the movements and sounds of wildlife are more pronounced-and familiar if you stay long enough. “It’s to the point, where they (the island caretakers) will even name the deer and watch the fawns grow up during the season,” said park ranger Mischa Cowles.

In the last century, this private island was mostly a summer getaway for a couple of wealthy families, including Louis Schmidt of the Olympia Brewing Company. In 1990, the state purchased it for $3.1 million and designated it a public park. Campgrounds are located near the beach, along with kayak racks, picnic tables and bathrooms. But the drawbacks are that you have to bring your own water since no freshwater is accessible, and campfires aren’t allowed.

Your guide, or at least the closest thing you have to a visitor’s center, is the island caretaker, who lives near a windmill leftover from the homestead a century earlier. Other than that, the park is a sprawling mass of meadows and trees.

On our visit, the tide was low enough that we could have walked around the island along the beach, but we opted to circle Hope Island on kayaks, especially since the landscape is more sandy than rocky under the shallow water. You can, of course, venture out on more challenging routes, navigating between the narrow inlets and little islands along the way. Paddle around nearby Hartstene Island, where from the southside “you see crabs, sea stars and anemones. It looks like a saltwater aquarium,” said Hodge. Or launch at Walker County Park near Shelton, or at Shelton Marina, to the narrow Hammersley Inlet, where the water moves faster, a favorite route with seasoned kayakers.

Those less adventurous can launch from Arcadia Point Public Boat Ramp, north of Olympia, to Hope Island, the recommended route by the Washington Water Trail Association. You paddle in flat water and don’t cross any major channels. Our plan was to wait for the tide to turn at 3 p.m., then paddle past the nearby residential Steamboat Island and then along the shores of the reservation Squaxin Island on the way back to the harbor, an easy 10-mile round trip.

There are other places to explore offshore as well, or if you request ahead, a park ranger will give large groups a guided tour of Hope Island.

If you go:

Where: Most day-trippers will launch from Boston Harbor Marina, about 6 miles north of downtown Olympia, since it’s the only launch area with kayak rentals. To paddle to Hope Island, count on an hour to 90 minutes, depending on your kayaking skills and the whims of the tides. More launching points are accessible if you have your own kayaks. The easiest route is from Arcadia Point Public Boat Ramp to Hope Island, where there are no channels to cross. The most popular route is from Walker County Park near Shelton or Shelton Marina to Hammersley Inlet. Or launch from Latimer’s Landing, near the Hartstene Island bridge, north of Hope Island.

Rentals: Boston Harbor Marina rents kayaks for $45 for a single, $60 for a double. There also are sailboat and powerboat rentals. Call 360-357-5670 or check www.bostonharbormarina.com.

Lodging: Hope Island has eight campgrounds and one large campsite for six to 12 people, on a first come, first served basis for $12. Note that you have to bring in your own water and no pets and campfires are allowed. There are two vault toilets, picnic tables and kayak and canoe racks. Call 360-426-9226 or check www.parks.wa.gov/parks

Traveler’s tip: Check the tide reports. Ask a guide or check with the staff at Boston Harbor for updates since kayaking when the tides go out makes paddling easier. Remember that Hope Island is an undeveloped marine park, with few amenities and no fresh water. Bring your own food and drinks or buy sandwiches at Boston Harbor. A park ranger will also give free island tours for large groups by advance request. Call 360-426-9226.

(c) 2009, The Seattle Times.
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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