Old forts are scenic spots for getaways, culture and fun
Fort Worden, Fort Flagler and Fort Casey formed what was called the Triangle of Fire, built to protect the entrance to Puget Sound in the early 20th century. The decommissioned forts and their satellites are now parks dedicated to education and family fun.
Special to The Seattle Times
If You Go
Take Highway 20 into Port Townsend. Turn left onto Kearney Street, and at the first stop sign turn right on Blaine Street. At the next stop sign, turn left on Cherry Street, and follow signs into the state park.
• Fort Worden State Park, 360-344-4401 or www.parks.wa.gov/fortworden• Centrum arts and education center, 360-385-3102 or www.centrum.org• Port Townsend Marine Science Center, 800-566-3932 or www.ptmsc.org
From the Hood Canal Bridge, go five miles west on Highway 114 to Highway 19. Go 10 miles north on 19 to the Chimacum four-way stop. Turn right on Chimacum Center Road. At the four-way stop in Port Hadlock, turn right onto Oak Bay Road. Go approximately one mile and turn left onto Highway 116. Continue about 10 miles to Fort Flagler State Park, at the end of the road.
More info: Fort Flagler State Park, 360-385-3701 or www.parks.wa.gov/parks/?selectedpark=Fort%20Flagler
Take the ferry from Port Townsend to Keystone. Or from the Clinton ferry landing, follow Highway 525 north and follow signs to the Keystone ferry landing. From the ferry landing, proceed toward Coupeville; Fort Casey State Park is the first entrance on the left.
• Fort Casey State Park, 360-678-4519 or www.parks.wa.gov/parks/?selectedpark=Fort%20Casey
• Camp Casey Conference Center, 866-661-6604 or www.spu.edu/depts/casey
From Highway 101 west of Port Angeles, turn right on Highway 112. Go about nine miles and turn north onto Camp Hayden Road; proceed three miles to Salt Creek Recreation Area.
More info: 360-928-3441 or www.clallam.net/countyparks/html/parks_saltcreek.htm.
Fort Ebey State Park
From Highway 20 on Whidbey Island, two miles north of Coupeville, turn west on Libbey Road and follow it 1.5 miles to Hill Valley Drive. Turn left and enter the park. More info: www.parks.wa.gov/parks/?selectedpark=Fort%20Ebey.
Where to stay
Fort Worden and Fort Flagler offer rentals in old fort housing through Washington State Parks: www.parks.wa.gov/vacationhouses. Or call 360-902-8600 for Fort Flagler reservations, or 360-344-4431 for Fort Worden reservations.
Fort Casey has group rentals in old fort housing managed through Seattle Pacific University's Camp Casey Conference Center: www.spu.edu/depts/casey.
Camping is available at Fort Worden, Fort Flagler, Fort Casey and Fort Ebey state parks (see www.parks.wa.gov/parks) and at Salt Creek Recreation Area adjacent to Camp Hayden (www.clallam.net/countyparks/html/parks_saltcreek.htm).
Gun emplacements pointing over Admiralty Inlet, leading to Seattle? Underground bunkers built into the hills above the Strait of Juan de Fuca? Seems reminiscent of Iraq or some other war zone. But here, children crawl over the old guns, and the whack-thump of a soccer ball echoes across ballfields that were once parade grounds.
These are decommissioned forts from the 20th century's two world wars. Lining Washington's waterways incoming from the Pacific, they are now museums and playgrounds for families having fun, learning new skills, or celebrating an event such as a jazz festival or family reunion.
The prophesy about "beating swords into plowshares" might well describe the transformation of Forts Worden, Flagler and Casey, together once known as the Triangle of Fire, along with satellite compounds Fort Ebey and Camp Hayden, all of which once bristled with armaments. Today, all are in state or county parks that make interesting family weekend destinations, offering a variety of activities related to arts, science and culture.
Fort Worden, adjacent to Port Townsend, has become a weekend and summer recreation center for Puget Sounders. This summer an educational emphasis is on "Trails," specifically water trails. Situated at the point where incoming boats and ships make a 70-degree right turn into Admiralty Inlet, the fort's site traditionally has served as a stopping point for all manner of travelers.
Just as numerous overland trails of the Northwest are being remapped and established, so are the water trails of our complex Northwest waterways. That theme comes to life next week when canoes participating in the annual Tribal Journeys paddle will stop at Fort Worden on their way to Neah Bay, where the Makahs are hosting native people from Washington, British Columbia and beyond.
The scheduling of the Journeys began after nine Northwest tribes sent pullers, as they are called (not paddlers), in cedar canoes to Washington state's 1989 centennial celebrations at Olympia. The event inspired the tribes to renew and expand such traditional gatherings. By 2009 at least 50 canoes came from tribal lands to a meeting place (it varies each year), where as many as 2,000 visitors and family members congregate.
This year the canoe landing is scheduled for July 19 at Neah Bay. Next Wednesday, Tribal Journey participants will stop and camp overnight on the parade grounds at Fort Worden and leave early the next morning.
Steve Shively, conference program supervisor at Fort Worden, told of the thrill of seeing the canoes approach the fort during past journeys:
"The native canoes come into sight from all directions, the canoes and pullers decorated in tribal themes. Canoes hauled up onto the beach, and the parade grounds vibrated with drums, songs and conversation in Northwest dialects. It's quite unusual."
Also keyed to the trail theme are expanding marine programs at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, on the fort's waterfront. In conjunction with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientists, students attending Fort Worden/Marine Science Center summer educational camps participate in a whale-monitoring program to help designate new "Whale Trails." The Marine Science Center continues this research year-round.
"By installing hydrophones just off the pier, we have found 20 entry points of orcas coming back into the strait from winter retreats," Shively said. "We learn more about their feeding grounds, an enormous habitat. Researchers are fascinated by the 'conversations' between orcas, too."
In 2002, a female orca beached itself in shallow waters and died; a male, believed to be her son, was aided back into the water. Researchers went to the scene and performed a necropsy of the female, burying the bones nearby. In 2008, Marine Science Center personnel resurrected the remains and are preparing an exhibit from the orca skeleton.
Besides the marine center, Fort Worden State Park has 16 partners that include Centrum (www.centrum.org), an organization dedicated to performances and workshops in music and the arts. Among Centrum events and courses open to the public this summer are the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes, which started last weekend and concludes Saturday; Port Townsend Writers' Conference, July 18-25; Jazz Port Townsend, July 25-Aug. 1; and the Acoustic Blues Festival, Aug. 1-8.
There is also a host of other programs for youth and adults — summer arts, whale camp, salsa dance. Visitors may book lodging at former officers' homes lining the parade grounds of the fort, considered fine examples of the Endicott Period, named for Secretary of War William Endicott, who oversaw the U.S. military in the 1880s.
Considered another "water trail" is the Keystone-Port Townsend ferry route. A new state ferry, the Chetzemoka, beginning service on the run Aug. 29, is named for a Jamestown S'Klallam tribal chief who was friendly to newcomers and gave them permission to settle in the area.
Nearby Fort Flagler State Park boasts sinister-looking gun emplacements (as does one section of Fort Worden) that rarely fired a shot, and then only as tests. It also has old military homes for overnight stays and a parade ground. From Highway 19 south of Port Townsend, it is about a 10-mile side trip via a bridge onto Marrowstone Island.
Like Fort Worden, the spacious grounds lend themselves to public events and reunions. Sweeping views and a pleasant beach for loafing make it an ideal spot to watch for large ships headed to Seattle or Tacoma. Visitors may launch small boats there or hike the miles of trails.
From May to September, visitor tours of a 1905 hospital on the grounds are available, as well as gun-emplacement tours to explain the history and the armaments. Through Sept. 11, the Friends of Fort Flagler host a series of musical events at Flagler Theatre, including various country-music performers and the Navy Band Northwest.
Camp Hayden is on a commanding headland, Striped Peak, overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca near the little town of Joyce, west of Port Angeles. While no organized events are scheduled, it is interesting to see the formidable gun emplacement built into the hillside in what is now Salt Creek Recreation Area, a Clallam County park.
Samples of old artillery shells give an indication of the size of the now-removed guns. During World War II, about 150 soldiers were stationed there, manning two 6-inch guns and two 16-inch guns, the latter able to fire a 1-ton projectile 28 miles — reaching across the Strait. A rotating crew of soldiers lived there at all times, ready to open fire if enemy ships entered the Strait. The below-ground troop quarters are not open to visitors, but the adjoining park offers RV and tent camping, with beaches known for tide pools rich in sea life. The historic little general store at Joyce is worth a stop. In earlier days, travelers could buy anything from overalls and nightgowns to ham hocks or books there.
A ferry trip from Port Townsend to Keystone on Whidbey Island brings you to Fort Casey State Park, just around the corner from the landing. A still-standing fortress about 300 feet long marks a major defense point of the triangle of armament guarding the entrance of Puget Sound.
The installation, built in 1897, housed two 10-inch artillery guns on disappearing carriages; in other words, the guns raised above the fortress just long enough to fire, then retreated below to avoid any incoming shells. Most of the armament was removed and sent to Europe and the Pacific during World War II, since Fort Casey was wide open to hostile aircraft and by then considered useless for defense of Seattle. However, the post has been used for training purposes.
Today as Camp Casey, the barracks and officers' houses are managed by Seattle Pacific University and are popular with educational groups and nonprofit organizations. Many Seattle-area athletic teams have sweated out intensive training there, preparing for high-school competitions.
Visitors may climb around on the emplacements and see where rooms underneath were provided for the soldiers. The 467-acre grounds have splendid views of the Olympics and Admiralty Inlet, while the beaches invite exploration.
Free tours of the historic gun batteries are offered on weekends (2:30 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 2:30 p.m. Sunday) through Sept. 5. Free tours of the adjacent Admiralty Head Lighthouse are offered daily upon request; just ask at the lighthouse.
Fort Ebey, just north of Fort Casey, was a World War II outpost with additional gun emplacements. Nothing remains of this fort, although you can visit the site by way of a rough trail in Fort Ebey State Park.
Vulnerable as they are to destruction from the air, the historic forts with their period buildings and extensive grounds were converted into peaceful gathering places available for all to enjoy. For families, a visit is both educational and physically active.
JoAnn Roe is a Bellingham-based freelance writer and author
of numerous books and articles about Northwest history,
places and people.
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