Orcas Life: A Blog

Next Stop: Orcas Island

June 22nd, 2014

Nature, Food and the Arts Lend to a Revitalizing Escape

By Rob Bhatt, AAA Journey Editor-in-Chief

Western Journey (July/August 2014)

Journey cover1I had only been on Orcas Island for about a half-hour when I first noticed the aura of calm that had enveloped me. As I rounded the bend into Eastsound, a mysterious force, like one that might control the disc on a Ouija board, compelled me to park my car, walk over to the waterfront park, and gaze at the tide lapping up along the shore. Next day, a local merchant told me about the vortex, or healing energy field, that some believe exists on the back side of a tiny island less than 100 yards off the same stretch of shoreline. Though the gentleman who told me about it seemed to doubt the existence of such a phenomenon, I wasn’t quite so dismissive. After just 24 hours on island time, I was feeling so revitalized that the thought of supernatural forces at play struck me as rather plausible.

New Age vortex chasers are not the only ones to have sought the healing powers of Orcas Island. Shipbuilding magnate and former Seattle Mayor Robert Moran, who described the San Juan Islands as a “delightful place in which to regain health – physical, mental, and spiritual,” moved to Orcas Island in 1905 as he faced declining health. Though his doctors told him that he only had a few years left, Moran built an impressive retirement home, overcame his stress and lived to age 86. He passed away in 1943, but his legacy lives on at Rosario Resort & Spa, on the grounds of his Arts and Crafts mansion, and at Moran State Park, on land he gifted to the state.

Ferry Talk

Orcas Village, Orcas Island, San Juan Islands, Washington, USA

Photo: Brad Miller

Locals recommend adjusting summer “weekend” visits to allow for Thursday arrivals or Monday departures to avoid the longest ferry waits. Six interisland ferry sailings a day (five on Sundays and Labor Day) facilitate day trips to neighboring islands. Hint 1: Relatively flat roads make Lopez Island ideal for soaking in the scenery by bike. Hint 2: Since summer is peak season for orcas viewing off the west side of San Juan Island, consider a guided kayak tour; outfitters pick you up at the ferry dock in Friday Harbor.

Naturally Speaking

With 38 miles of hiking trails and five lakes (along with 151 tent sites), it’s easy to immerse yourself in nature in MORAN STATE PARK‘s 5,579 forested acres, which climb from sea level to the 2,409-foot summit of MOUNT CONSTITUTION. Unsurpassed views from the observation deck atop the summit, the highest point in the San Juan Islands, can be reached via a 7-mile hiking loop beginning (and ending) at Mountain Lake; a shorter trail beginning near Cold Springs; or by car, via Mount Constitution Road. The 8-mile trail network through the 1,710 TURTLEBACK MOUNTAIN PRESERVE, west of Eastsound, lets you meander through quiet forests and meadows en route to vantage points offering unique perspectives across the San Juan Archipelago.

Island Flavor

You’d be hard-pressed to find a community that more fully embraces the locavore food movement. In Olga, DOE BAY CAFE showcases the bounty of its on-site garden on a mostly vegetarian menu, with a few dishes featuring local seafood, including oysters from nearby BUCK BAY SHELLFISH FARM. Back in Eastsound, the NEW LEAF CAFE at the OUTLOOK INN offers French-inspired touches on ingredients raised on or near the island. Breakfast means house-baked scones at TEEZER’S COOKIES & COFFEE HOUSE; lunch at ROSES BAKERY CAFE, with sandwiches served on house-baked breads, is an island rite of passage. Saturdays bring island-made artisan foods to the ORCAS ISLAND FARMERS MARKET on the Village Green.

Creative Inspiration

Paintings, prints, sculptures, textiles, ceramics and works in other media by island artists and artisans can be found at the ORCAS ISLAND ARTWORKS GALLERY. The artists’ cooperative temporarily moved its gallery to Eastsound as its Olga space undergoes repairs from fire damage sustained last summer. THE POTTER’S FESTIVAL (July 17 through August), brings works in a range of styles by local and national artists to CROW VALLEY POTTERY‘s “cabin” space, with participating artists offering demonstrations on select dates.

Find ‘Em

Moran State Park

Doe Bay Cafe
107 Doe Bay Road, Olga

Buck Bay Shellfish Farm
77 EJ Young Road, Olga

New Leaf Cafe
171 Main Street, Eastsound

Teezer’s Cookies & Coffee House
330 N. Beach Road, Eastsound

Roses Bakery Cafe
382 Prune Alley, Eastsound

Orcas Island Farmers Market
Village Green, Eastsound

Orcas Island Artworks
217 Main St., Eastsound

Crow Valley Pottery
2274 Orcas Road, Eastsound

Washington State Ferries

Photo Credits
Orcas Landing: Brad Mitchell
Original photos: Mike Sedam

This article appeared in the July/August 2014 edition of Western Journey.

Agriculture, Agritourism, Arts, Doe Bay, Eastsound, Moran State Park, Orcas Island, Pottery, Rosario Resort, San Juan Islands, Turtleback Mountain Preserve

The Great Island Grown Festival!

September 12th, 2013

Bountiful farms, stunning pastoral landscapes and superb local food…that’s the San Juan Islands way of life!

This October, farmers, restaurants, the island community and visitors will come together to celebrate this unique and coveted destination at The Great Island Grown Festival.

The Great Island Grown Festival features two weeks of events and workshops, from distillery tastings and plein air farm Crow Valley Farm Orcas Islandpainting to shellfish tours and sheepdog demonstrations to farm parades, bike tours of farms, and vineyard harvests. And, of course, farmers’ markets, harvest festival, and farm-to-table meals.

Please see the flyer below for highlights of several of the signature events on each island, background info on Island Grown in the San Juans and the story of the Pear in the Boat logo – the symbol of the rich agricultural heritage and historic orchards of the island archipelago.

The complete festival calendar and more details including dates and locations are available at http://islandgrown.net/festival.  More details are found on the Island Grown Festival Facebook Page.

What is Island Grown in the San Juans?

Island Grown in the San Juans, a membership organization of San Jan County farmers, restaurants, and supporters, celebrates the bounty of the islands’ rich agricultural heritage and inspires islanders, visitors, and businesses about the many benefits of buying locally-grown and harvested products from land and sea.


PearBoatWhat’s With the Pear in the Boat?

Island Grown in the San Juans chose a logo with a pear in a boat as a symbol of the rich agricultural heritage of the island archipelago situated in the waters of the Salish Sea.  Pears played a key role in fruit raising in the San Juans during the period from the 1890s to the 1930s.  The pear represents an Orcas pear, a delicious heritage variety that was discovered by Joseph C. Long along a roadside on Orcas Island in 1966.  The Orcas pear (Pyrus communis) is listed as an American Heirloom Pear in Slow Foods USA “Ark of Taste,” and is suitable for fresh consumption, canning, and drying.

The boat was, and still is, one of the primary means of transportation in the islands.  Even today, islanders are known to transport their farm produce by boat to markets on other islands.

The San Juan Islands are blessed with a temperate climate and were once considered to be the breadbasket of Western Washington.  The local fruit industry began in earnest in the 1890s, with the introduction of Italian prune plums, and grew to include thousands of trees bearing apples, cherries, peaches, and pears.  During the early 1900s, farmers shipped boatloads of fruit from all the major islands to Salish Sea ports, where the produce was transported by rail throughout the country.  Although the islands no longer dominate Washington’s fruit industry, the legacy of historic orchards with local varieties such as the Orcas pear bear witness to the rich history of island fruit raising and distribution—a heritage that is still cultivated by San Juan County growers today.


Agriculture, Agritourism, Events, Festival, Food, Orcas Island, San Juan Islands, Uncategorized

Eddie Bauer Visits the San Juan Islands

February 23rd, 2013

You know Eddie Bauer, the home of great outdoor clothing in the Pacific Northwest?  Did you know that the outdoor wear namesake was born on Orcas Island?  Indeed!  He only lived on the island for a few years as an infant, but local legend has it his time on Orcas Island laid the groundwork for his career as a renowned outdoorsman, outfitter and innovator.

Eddie Bauer

photo: Eddie Bauer

Now, Eddie’s company – Eddie Bauer – has made a return to Orcas Island and the San Juan Islands to reflect on Bauer’s historical roots, and show off the gorgeous scenery (and impressive clothing).  The current catalog (February 2013) is set in the San Juan Islands, and provides glimpses of the rugged, and beautiful surroundings in this part of the Northwest.  Here’s a sampling of images and excerpts of the descriptions found in the catalog…

“The Great Northwest defines Eddie Bauer.  It’s where we were born and raised.  It’s the perfect home for travel, activity, and exploration.  And whether you’re sea kayaking near orca whales or take a seaplane to Friday Harbor, the Northwest spirit comes alive in the San Juan Islands.  From the bays and coves to the forested trails and winding two-lanes, Eddie Bauer feels most at home in landscapes, locations, and destinations like the San Juans that take us to adventure.

Adopt a different approach to your adventure by taking a Washington state ferry to the San Juan Islands.  Once you’re on board, grab a cup of coffee, and, depending on the weather, head outside to the deck or station yourself by one of the huge indoor windows.  As the ferry churns up the waters of the Rosario Strait, you’ll catch glimpses of tiny, uninhabited islands and wildlife, including bald eagles, sea lions, and even whale pods migrating through the waterways.


photo: Eddie Bauer

Insider’s Guide: Taking A Ferry – The Walk On.  To better prepare yourself for the speed of life in the islands, leave your car in Anacortes and walk onto the ferry.  Your trip will take anywhere from 40 minutes to a little over an hour, depending on which island you’re visiting.  You’ll arrive relaxed and ready to kick-start your adventure.

Insider’s Guide: The Strange History of Safari Island.  Spieden Island, also known as Safari Island, has a strange history.  In 1969, two brothers imported exotic animals to the island, in an attempt to turn it into a big-game hunting operation.  Public backlash shut them down.  The island had a brief resurgence in the ’90s, when it briefly became a wildlife sanctuary and living classroom until that, too, closed.  It’s now privately owned and off-limits; the free-ranging herds of Corsican big-horn sheep, Asian fallow deer, and more can only be viewed from a plane or boat.


photo: Eddie Bauer

There is nothing like traveling to the San Juan Islands by seaplane.  Simply step into a de Havilland Beaver taking off from Seattle’s Lake Union.  Sixty miles and less than 40 minutes later, you’re landing in an archipelago that’s roughly halfway between highly urban Seattle and Vancouver.

Insider’s Guide: Idyllic Sucia Island.  Located at the north end of the San Juan archipelago is Sucia Island, a 564-acre marine park with 77,700 feet of shoreline.  It’s one of the crown jewels of the Washington State Marine Park system and is consistently ranked as one of the top boating destinations in the world.  Even if your visit is brief, Sucia provides you with a place to spend a few days in relative island solitude, roaming the beach and taking in the classic sunsets.”

Our thanks to Eddie Bauer for sharing your love of the San Juan Islands.  We share a kinship here on Orcas Island with your founder, and know that connection will remain strong.  All photos used in this post are the property of Eddie Bauer.  Our thanks to Colin Berg (Eddie Bauer Brand Historian) for his assistance.

Activities, Kayaking, Location, Orcas Island, San Juan Islands, Seaplane, Spieden Island, Sucia Island, Tourism, Travel

Second Annual Orcas Island Shakespeare Festival

February 19th, 2013


 The Bard himself joins the Orcas Community in the 2nd Annual Festival.

Restaurants, Shops & Schools Will Join in the Fun on March 22 & 23, 2013

Julius Caesar

‘Julius Caesar’ Saturday, March 23

Renowned Shakespeare actors and enthusiastic small-town performers are coming together on Orcas Island for two days of entertainment.

The Second Annual Shakespeare Festival will feature a production by the Seattle Shakespeare Company, parades and impromptu acting by Orcas musicians and performers both young and old, and a variety of offerings from island restaurants, hotels and shops for visitors and locals alike. William Shakespeare himself will kick off the festival, taking place on Friday, March 22 and Saturday, March 23.

“The Chamber of Commerce is working with our business community to take part in the fun,” said Orcas Island Chamber Board President Michell Marshall. “Restaurants and shops will feature ‘Shakespearean Specials’ that weekend, transforming the island into a Salish Sea version of Stratford-upon-Avon.”

On Friday, March 22, the Seattle Shakespeare Company will present a production of Julius Caesar for the Orcas Island schools. The school performance will be followed by ‘stage combat’ acting workshop presented by the company, one for students, and one for adults.

The Stage on the Green, located in the heart of the island, will be home to numerous festival activities all day Saturday, March 23, including stage performances and music of the period. That evening, a performance of Julius Caesar will be presented at the island’s version of “The Globe” – the 200-seat Orcas Center, the community’s performing arts facility. Tickets for the March 23 performance of Julius Caesar will go on sale in January, and will be available through the Orcas Center Box Office (360-376-2281) or its website www.OrcasCenter.org. Tickets will also be available at Brown Paper Tickets (Click Here)

Orcas Island, one of the San Juan Islands, is famous for its natural beauty, and is often referred to as the “Gem of the San Juans.”

“With an amazing variety of talented local artists, Orcas has earned the reputation as an ‘Island for the Arts,’ and this year’s Shakespeare Festival will only add to that reputation. And it doesn’t hurt we have our own William Shakespeare for the event,” Marshall said.

Puck entertains the crowd

Shakespearean Street Theater in Eastsound

Eastsound, Events, Festival, Location, Music, Orcas Center, Orcas Island, Performance

Amazing Deals for 50k Runners visiting Moran State Park

January 29th, 2013

Running is fun!

Running is fun!

Once again, Rainshadow Running is taking to Orcas Island for the Orcas Island 50k trail running race on Saturday, February 2nd.  Beautiful Moran State Park will be the host once again.  This past weekend, over 240 runners took part in the Orcas Island 25k.

Here’s how Rainshadow Running describes this Saturday’s race:

The Orcas Island 50k (and it’s sister race the Orcas Island 25k on Jan 26th) is quite unique in the trail running world. The course alone would make this race very special with it’s old growth forests, tough climbs and views of the surrounding islands, mountains, and Puget Sound but this race also has live music, great post race food and beer, and the chance to hang out all weekend long on the island with all your runner buddies. It’s these Orcas races that started the whole “Rainshadow Running” approach to putting on a race–a party for my friends with a little bit of tough, yet beautiful, running thrown in. Why Run Anywhere Else?

Planning to visit Orcas Island this weekend?  The Chamber of Commerce has lots and lots of great deals for you when you arrive… from lodging to massages … the island welcomes runners and their families!  Contact the Chamber if you have any questions at all.  Phone: 360-376-2273 or Email us: info@orcasislandchamber.com

Restaurant List Download a copy of the Orcas restaurants HERE

Massage Specials

  • Greetings Runners, friends and family! Massage by the Sea is located in the heart of Eastsound next to restaurants and hotels.  We are offering a great treatment that reduces lactic acid and muscle tightness or a spa relaxing style massage! Receive this one hour Therapeutic Hot Stone Deep Tissue massage for $50 (regular price $65).I have given bodywork to sports figures, Chiropractic and MD’s patients and in Spa’s since 1989. All the therapists working here are seasoned in giving thousands of massages. Looking forward to meeting you all. Roxanne Robertson LMP.  Phone: 360.376.8006.  344 Main Street Suite 103

Lodging Specials

  • The Outlook Inn is offering a 20% discount on guest rooms to all participants (and their family members) of the 25k Trail Runners Race on January 26th and the 50k Trail Runners Race on February 2nd. Come relax in one of our beautiful rooms overlooking the bay after your race! For reservations, please call (888) 688-5665 or email info@outlookinn.com.
  • Beach Haven Resort
    We would like to offer a 20% discount based on a two night stay. The also applies to our already discounted midweek rates. We offer log cabins with full kitchens right on a secluded beach.
    Phone: (360) 376-2288
    684 Beach Haven Rd  Eastsound, WA 98245
  • Doe Bay Resort
    Rain-shadow Runners Promotion.
    *Extended Stay Special: For all runners, reserve 2 nights at full price and receive the option of adding a 3rd, 4th, and 5th night free.
    *Free lattes to runners who eat breakfast in the Café and bring their race number with them
    *Special “carbo-loading” dinner on the night before the race (Friday, January 27th and Friday, February 3rd)
    Dinner/Spa package – Any runner who buys dinner at the Café and shows their race number will receive a free pass to the spa during the whole weekend (Friday – Sunday)
    Phone: Doe Bay Front Desk: (360) 376-2291
    Phone: Doe Bay Café: (360) 376-8059
  • Pebble Cove Farm
    We would like to offer a “$50 off the 2nd night Special” to all participating runners.
    Phone: 360-376-6161
  • Smugglers Villa Resort
    We offer special Runners discounts for these events – A comfy 2 bedroom resort condo for just $99 per night + tax – two night minimum – up to 4 persons – Waterfront, real homes, access to hot tubs and sauna – no smoking/no pets.
    54 Hunt Rd.
    Eastsound, WA 98245
  • The Eastsound Landmark Inn
    The Landmark would like to offer the trail runners 10% off our already super low winter rates on our 2 and 3 bedroom condos!  2 night minimum stay.
    67 Main Street
    Eastsound, WA  98245
  • Orcas Island Lodgings (3 separate locations)
    Orcas Island Lodgings is pleased to offer a 15% discount to our running friends (and their fans!).
  • Orcas Suites features water view rooms with private balconies and convenient access to Moran State Park via car or hiking trail, Runners Special rates start at $79 per night.
    1600 Rosario Road
    Eastsound, WA 98245
    Phone: 360.376.6262
  • Treat yourself to a stay at Orcas Oasis. Enjoy our 70-foot long indoor lap pool, exercise room, pool table, and outdoor hot tubs. 25k and 50k runners, along with their family and friends, will receive a 20% discount for their 2-night stay January 25 to 27 and February 1 to 3, 2013.See our web site at orcasoasis.com.  Our 1000 square foot guest house sleeps 4 to 8 people.  Our 3,400 square foot main house sleeps 6 to 8 people. Or call Barb at 360-376-4646 for rates.  http://www.orcasoasis.com
    Barb Brunius
    Orcas Oasis


Activities, Blog, Eastsound, Events, Location, Moran State Park, Orcas Island, Race

Explore the islands. Experience the beautiful San Juans.

July 2nd, 2012

Orcas Island.  Check out the panoramic view from the highest point in the San Juan Islands.

Waterside Magazine Summer 2012

Waterside Magazine

With a total area of 58 square miles, Orcas is the largest island in the San Juans.  Eastsound is the commercial center of the island.  Grab a latte and wander around town, pick up a book from Darvill’s Bookstore and head to the beach or enjoy a gourmet meal at Roses Bakery & Cafe.

Art is a huge draw for visitors, and the hamlet of Olga is hub for all things artsy.  Olga features an artists’ co-op, with more than 45 artists exhibiting an extensive selection of art glass, painting, jewelry, pottery and more.  The co-op is housed in a historic strawberry cannery building alongside the popular Cafe Olga.

Orcas has plenty of adventures to choose from.  Take a dinner cruise, go sailing, or rent a kayak for a paddle in the waters off the island.  On land, rent a bike or moped to get around.  An absolute must is a trip to the top of Mt. Constitution, the highest peak in the San Juans.  The drive takes a good 20 minutes, but if you’re more ambitious, you can bike or hike.  Mt. Constitution is just one highlight of the 5,000-acre Moran State Park, the largest park in the San Juans.

Orcas Landing

For those with a fondness for the nautical, look no further than Deer Harbor on the western arm of the Island.  Deer Harbor is home to kayak rentals, whale and wildlife viewing tours, sailing excursions, power and sailboat rentals, and the well-know Marina Barge Gift Shop.  Deer Harbor also has its own collections of eateries, lodgings and its very own wood sculptor’s studio.

Things to do on the islands: Orcas Island – Hike or drive to the top of Mt. Constitution in Moran State Park for panoramic views from the highest point in the San Juans. Take a self-guided tours of the Moran museum at Rosario Resort, an early-1900s mansion built by shipbuilder Robert Moran.

This article is an edited version. The original article is found here. Copies of Waterside Magazine are found at various locations around the Northwest, including the Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce.

For more info, visit OrcasIslandChamber.com

Arts, Blog, Eastsound, Food, Location, Moran State Park, Orcas Island, Pottery, Rosario Resort, Tourism, Travel, Uncategorized, Vacation

Eat naturally and play hard on Orcas Island

June 24th, 2012

Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands, has scenic and recreational delights, a down-to-earth culture and a populace of farmers, retirees, artists, arts-lovers and a smattering of hippies young and old.

By Brian J. Cantwell

Seattle Times Travel staff

ORCAS ISLAND — If life hands you lemons, you make lemonade, right? But if life hands you nettles, and you’re on Orcas Island? You make pizza.

Doe Bay Cafe Pizza

On a recent rainy Thursday, during the weekly pizza and open-microphone night at Doe Bay Café, an overflow crowd of locals steamed up the wood-framed windows overlooking emerald-green Otter Cove. Manny’s ale fueled loud, happy conversations.

Topping the popular pie this night: nettle pesto, a sprinkling of blue cheese, Parmesan, pecans and sliced roasted beets, reflecting the guiding genius and local-food focus of chef Abigael Birrell, who has made this the restaurant everybody’s talking about on Orcas this year.

Obviously, the focus on local can get pretty basic.

“We’ve no shortage of nettles,” Heather Watts, the young overseer of Doe Bay Resort’s organic garden, told me the next day as we donned gardening gloves and snipped nettles just outside the garden fence. We mashed the nitrogen-rich, stinging stalks — the nemesis of path-straying Northwest hikers — into a water-filled tub to make “nettle tea.”

After brewing for a couple weeks, Watts said, the “tea” would make a potent fertilizer for the garden that supplies the café’s “seed-to-table” strategy.

Elsewhere, nettles are one of nature’s nuisances, but on Orcas Island they’re an asset, and that speaks volumes about the down-to-earth vibe on this largest “rock” of the San Juan archipelago.

Besides its rich growth of nettles, Orcas is distinguished for the pristine forests and lakes of Moran State Park, trail-laced mountains, and little farms pocketed among hills and dales from which black-faced lambs look up to watch cars pass every time a ferry arrives.

The people also seem a little different from the “big town” of Friday Harbor, the county seat that’s a 40-minute ferry ride away on San Juan Island.

“I think we’re more eclectic here … more involved with culture and sustainability,” said Morgan Meadows, a stalwart of the Occupy Orcas Island movement — yes, they have one — as she waved a sign from a roadside park in Eastsound, the island’s largest village. The group makes a weekly stand from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursdays, in between teaching jobs or doing face-painting at the farmers market.

But old-fashioned capitalism and small-town quaintness is no relic here: At a table just around the corner, two young teens sold lemonade and 50-cent brownies to make a few bucks after school.

Where hippies were happy

It might be notable, too, that humble Doe Bay, home to the healing-arts Polarity Institute in the 1970s, a hippie retreat in the 1980s, and renovated in recent years by new Seattle owners, still draws crowds with its yurts, rustic cabins and clothing-optional soaking tubs (www.doebay.com). Meanwhile, a few miles down the road, once-proud Rosario Resort, a high-society enclave built around the 103-year-old mansion of 19th-century shipbuilder Robert Moran, is struggling back from the auction block after a 2008 financial bust.

Crow Valley Pottery

“Doe Bay is Orcas,” said Jeffri Coleman, 54, lifelong Orcas Islander and co-proprietor of Crow Valley Pottery, the granddaddy of island galleries (www.crowvalley.com).

While moneyed newcomers have built fancy bed-and-breakfasts, he says with tongue-in-cheek asperity, “If you want to stay at a French château, go to France!”

Another longtime islander bemoaned that visitors “are smitten” when they first come, but if they move to Orcas, too many then find fault with things such as the rural public services without appreciating “every splendid thing, like the ridgelines and the valleys and the inviting glimpses of coves and little beaches that are magical, and the osprey by Cascade Lake, the oystercatchers along Crescent Beach, or the ouzels in the streams at the state park.”

Orcas, shaped like a giant horseshoe cleaved almost in two by the waters of East Sound, feels more geographically diverse than other islands in the San Juans. It’s the only island with more than one official U.S. Post Office — in fact, it has four: in Eastsound, Orcas village, Deer Harbor and even the tiny hamlet of Olga, where a “For Rent” sign fills the window of the only store. Each village has its own personality.

“Olga even has its own parade, for the Olga Daze (festival, in July),” Coleman said.

“Does it last about three minutes?” a visitor asked with a grin.

“If it goes around twice!” Coleman laughed.

High on Orcas

Orcas Island

The island’s most famous geographic feature is Mount Constitution. The San Juans’ highest point, at 2,400 feet, is the crowning glory of 5,000-acre Moran State Park. Visitors can drive (or ambitiously bike or hike) up to a stone lookout tower offering views of snow-clad Mount Baker and soaring eagles, along with eagle-eye views of boats of all sizes threading among islands spread below like blue-green lumps of clay waiting for a sculptor.

These days, another landmark beckons hikers, bikers and equestrians, thanks to local conservationists’ 2006 purchase of Turtleback Mountain, which occupies a chunk of the island’s western half.

From a distance it looks like a turtle, with a dark green “shell” and the hump of a “head” at one end. The late Weyerhaeuser tycoon and one-time Boy Scouts of America president Norton Clapp owned it for many years as a retreat with only a tiny cabin at the top.

“It is truly the most iconic property on the islands, because it’s the most visible from all the islands — from San Juan, Lopez and Shaw, it’s this beacon,” said Lincoln Bormann, director of the San Juan County Land Bank, as he led me up one of the trails developed by his agency, which manages Turtleback’s 1,576 acres as a nature preserve.

Trails meander up through fir and hemlock woods and break out into steep meadows of dry grass dotted with glacially-scraped rocks and gnarled Garry oaks.

“There’s Tiptop Mountain and Spieden Island and Yellow Island,” Bormann recited fondly as he looked out at views to the northwest. New in the past year: the Lost Oak Trail, built by volunteers and the Washington Conservation Corps, creating almost seven miles of trails on the mountain (details and maps at www.sjclandbank.org/turtle_back.html)

Preserving farms

Back on the road just below Turtleback, we pulled into Coffelt Farm, another recently preserved Orcas treasure — a 185-acre Crow Valley farm that was up for sale when the

Maple Rock Farm

owners sought to retire a few years ago.

The Land Bank purchased it and handed over management to a nonprofit, which gets help from the longtime farmers, Vern Coffelt, who was born on Turtleback, and his wife, Sidney. Under the arrangement, the couple may stay on the farm as long as they choose.

“It’s one of the more productive and complete farms on the island,” Bormann said.

“We just had a pig that had 11 babies, and we had 120 lambs this year!” said farmworker Ruthie Dougherty, who was at the counter of the farm’s little shop, which that day offered everything from organic Purple Majesty potatoes and fresh rhubarb to socks made from the farm’s wool. There’s also a freezer full of meats, all from Coffelt Farm. (Unfortunately for visitors, the farm stand is open weekdays only.)

Pick up dinner fixings, take one of the farm’s occasional workshops, such as Beekeeping Basics (2-4 p.m. June 23, $20), or come for the Aug. 18 Summer Farm Tour (see www.coffeltfarm.org).

Culture, too

Orcas has a sophisticated population of retirees, and the arts are a big part of island life. Galleries are easy to find in Eastsound, and Orcas Island Artworks in Olga (www.orcasartworks.com) is a good reason to drive across the island to see the output of local visual artists and crafts-people (and have lunch at Café Olga).

Residents and visitors alike can also enjoy artwork, dance and theater at Orcas Center, a publicly funded cultural center under the new direction of Kara O’Toole, former director at Seattle’s Velocity Dance Center.

New at Orcas Center, on the edge of Eastsound, are satellite-beamed, big-screen viewings of New York’s Metropolitan Opera and the National Theater of Great Britain, including opera on five Friday nights this summer ($11-$15 for nonmembers).

An August attraction: the Orcas Island Chamber Music Festival, Aug. 10-25, plus a day of “hamlet concerts” Aug. 9 in Olga, West Sound and Deer Harbor. See www.orcascenter.org.

Rosario tunes

Or if you prefer no-cost entertainment that’s been an Orcas Island staple for years, head to Rosario Resort, where manager Christopher Peacock sets the Moran mansion’s foundation shaking with his gleeful renditions of “Phantom of the Opera” themes on the mansion’s 1,972-pipe Aeolian organ (free to the public, 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday in summer).

With new owners, Rosario has been replacing guest-room furnishings this spring and renovating the lovely old mansion. The resort recently added to its room offerings by acquiring the neighboring Cascade Harbor Inn. The comeback is definitely still a work in progress, but they’re making headway (www.rosarioresort.com).

Visit Orcas in autumn and end your day with a thrill ride: Have a friend drive you to the top of Mount Constitution, then mountain-bike all the way down on trails that are open to bikers Sept. 15 to May 15.

If you accidentally veer into a patch of nettles: Get revenge. Go for pizza.

Brian J. Cantwell is The Seattle Times’ Outdoors editor.

Contact: 206-748-5724 or bcantwell@seattletimes.com

Additional Information about Orcas Island continues: Read the rest of this entry »

Arts, Doe Bay, Eastsound, Food, Location, Moran State Park, Pottery, Rosario Resort, Seattle Times, Tourism, Travel, Turtleback Mountain Preserve, Vacation

Town & Country Explores Camp Four Winds Westward Ho

May 22nd, 2012

A Piece of the Past

America’s Summer Camp Revival (June/July 2012)

Moquito bites.  Homesickness.  Merit badges.  Capsized canoes.  Great stories (and friends) for life.  Camp remains an American rite of passage preserved in the glow of perpetual summer – impervious to iPads, brimming with nostalgia, and, it seems, as popular as ever.

A Piece of the Past.  At Four Winds Westward Ho, in Washington state.  At right: A boys tent; a jam session; showing off the retro Sunday uniform.  The tie color indicates whether the wearer is a camper, counselor trainee, or staffer.

Great Outdoors

The Great Outdoors.  A Four Winds Westward Ho camper relaxes on a hammock on Drifter Point, with a view of Puget Sound.  The camp, founded in 1927, is on Orcas Island, in Washington’s San Juan Islands.

Sing It Loud

Sing It Loud.  After breakfast, Four Winds Westward Ho campers gather on the stairs to sing “Sasquatch,” which includes monster gestures.

Camps of Distinction: T&C Merit Badges.
Best Uniforms.  Camp Four Winds Westward Ho, Orcas Island, WA.  We love the retro look of the campers at Four Winds, where part of our article was photographed.  The uniforms are virtually unchanged since the camp’s founding in 1927. Girls still wear old-fashioned bloomers and middies (blouses with sailor collars), while boys are dressed in navy shorts and matching shirts.  The girls also wear red ties, which they can decorate with award  pins or their own stickers from home.

Treehouse Adventures.  Located by the lodge near the center of Four Winds Westward Ho, this two-story treehouse, built in a maple tree, is a popular camper destination before and after meals.

Treehouse Adventures

Photographs by: Susanna Howe

This excerpt is taken from the June/July 2012 editions of Town & Country.  Magazine subscription information is found here.

Camp, Kids, Orcas Island

State’s tourism bellwether rings loudly in the San Juans

May 19th, 2012

Almost a year after budget cuts closed the state’s tourism office, the tourism-dependent San Juan Islands are battling back from tough times with targeted strategies to lure visitors, and a little boost from big media.

By Brian J. Cantwell   Seattle Times travel staff

FRIDAY HARBOR, San Juan Island — To get a bead on how the tourism-dependent San Juan Islands are rebounding from the sour economy, you might do well to consult The New York Times, National Geographic and a San Juan Island marriage counselor named Peggy Butler.

Photo by: Alan Berner/The Seattle Times

Both publications last year named the San Juans one of the world’s top places to visit, and Butler, who lives down salal-lined Big Foot Road, north of Friday Harbor, has evidence the world heeded the call.

Last summer, she started counting out-of-state license plates on the island.

“My husband and I go walking every day, at American Camp and all over the island, and last August we started noticing how many cars were from other states,” said Butler, who ended up writing about it in the island newspaper. Through September, they counted plates from all but six states.

It’s actually the continuation of a trend, if you look at 2010 statistics from Friday Harbor’s popular Whale Museum, which asks visitors where they hail from.

“It’s every region in Washington, every state in the U.S., almost every province in Canada — I don’t think we have Nunavut — and every continent but Antarctica!” said museum director Jenny Atkinson, who’s still compiling numbers for 2011, but seeing the same trends.

Almost a year since budget cuts closed Washington’s state-funded tourism agency last June, the visitor industry in this county of scenic islands — arguably a bellwether for state tourism — isn’t on the rocks.

Tourism promoters are battling back from hard times with fresh efforts to fill the less-crowded “shoulder” seasons and mine the visitor industry’s hottest niche markets, such as volunteer vacations, arts tourism and “agritourism” — farms and food.

And as a statewide group of tourism-industry leaders builds a new private-sector promotional organization, the year-old Washington Tourism Alliance (WTA), island tourism promoters seem cautiously optimistic.

Big-money competition

Even before the state budget deficit went viral, the Washington State Tourism Office was limping. Its final $1.8 million budget competed with the likes of California and British Columbia, each with promotional bankrolls of about $50 million a year.

Washington’s money went toward efforts such as a printed tourism guide, promoting the state at travel conventions and so on.

With initial membership fees from 425 participants — a mix of hotels, local visitor bureaus, tour operators, etc. — WTA has picked up the guide and related website, experiencewa.com, and plans to go to Olympia in 2013 with a funding plan under which businesses might self-assess fees hoped to total at least $7.5 million annually to continue other marketing efforts.

“We set a very low starting point,” said Suzanne Fletcher, WTA executive director. “It doesn’t really make us competitive, but it keeps us in the running.”

While San Juans tourism backers took the state agency’s loss as a blow, making this the only state in the union with no government tourism program, last year’s media ballyhoo buoyed spirits. The New York Times put the islands at No. 2 on its list of “41 Places to Go in 2011″ while National Geographic Traveler ranked them third on its list of “10 Best Trips of Summer 2011.”

Island promoters continue to trumpet the endorsements, hoping for more results this summer and next.

The payoff was spotty in 2011. While Friday Harbor lodging-tax receipts grew 7.2 percent from 2010, collections were almost flat for the rest of the county. However, that beat 2009′s 15 percent plummet, which made the San Juans one of the hardest-socked regions in a bad year for much of the state.

It was a difficult year, too, for island artist Misty Todd, who developed a green-certified, high-end condo project on the Friday Harbor waterfront just in time for the real-estate market to drop like a big rock from a high dock.

But she “made lemonade” and converted the condos to the Island Inn, opened last May.

It gave the San Juan Islands Visitor Bureau a fresh lodging offering “that really helps our marketing” in these tough times, said Robin Jacobson, the agency’s public-relations manager. “She didn’t give up on this place.”

Specialty vacations

Agritourism is big. That means farmers such as Orcas Island’s John Steward are getting lots of encouragement to hold more events such as last month’s Earth Day open house at his Maple Rock Farm, where he sold vegetable starts and served wood-fired pizza.

“It means having people come out and see what we are doing and what we’re about, trying to provide food for local people and do it with some style,” said the friendly, ruddy-faced Steward, who happily proclaims what he does, where he does it, “the best job in the world!”

The same day, on Lopez Island, as wood smoke spiced a salt breeze and visitors gobbled flame-roasted clams, Nick and Sara Jones, of Jones Family Farms, shared geoduck-farming secrets at their Shoal Bay open house.

You’ll find both farms named on area menus. The local-food movement has taken firm root in island restaurants, and in the islands’ marketing plan. At Doe Bay Café on Orcas, a chalkboard menu recently listed seven island farms providing raw ingredients, including Doe Bay Resort’s own organic garden.

Not only can foodies enjoy a salad of just-picked greens topped by edible yellow and blue viola flowers from the Doe Bay garden, they can also volunteer in spring or fall to do garden work in exchange for lodging.

The Whale Museum is another venue for visitors with the urge to volunteer — combined with the islands’ popular whale watching. Visitors with enough time may help with on-the-water education, reminding boaters to give space to orca pods.

Arts fans can come for Lopez Island’s Labor Day studio tour or Orcas Island’s new Shakespeare Festival. Before March’s sold-out staging of “Hamlet,” villagers in Eastsound donned Elizabethan garb for a procession through town.

“It doesn’t take much for islanders to say, ‘Oh, there’s a parade! — and we get to dress up?’ ” said Lance Evans of the Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce, which created the shoulder-season attraction.

Changing playing field

New blood helps. Cornell-trained Island Inn manager Scott Hale brings a savvy of search-engine optimization. Both the hotel and visitors bureau launched new websites in March, and many visitors now connect through those portals. With that new business model, is state promotion really needed?

“I don’t know — it’s working for us, but to do it on your own is like eating an elephant,” Hale said.

“We have to compete with our neighbors for visitor dollars,” said Deborah Hopkins, director of the San Juans visitors bureau, which now pays $2,500 a year for its WTA membership.

“We’re firmly committed to it, but that’s cash we could have used to promote our own area,” the bureau’s Jacobson added. “Yet we know if we can’t promote Washington, we’ve missed Step One.”

“This new group feels more approachable (than the state agency),” said Orcas’s Evans.

WTA director Fletcher said a unified message is what her organization is all about. She recalls an exercise from her group’s spring Tourism Summit. She asked hundreds of attendees from across the state to holler, all at once, what city they were from. The result was a garbled hubbub.

“And then I asked them to scream out what state they were from,” she said, “and it was all in one voice.”

Brian J. Cantwell is The Seattle Times Outdoors editor. He can be reached at 206-748-5724 or bcantwell@seattletimes.com.

This article was originally published on May 18, 2012 and can be found here.

Blog, Events, Festival, Orcas Island, Seattle Times, Tourism, Travel, Vacation

Sunset Magazine’s Escape to Orcas Island

April 23rd, 2012

Sunset Magazine May 2012

Weekend Escape: Explore the most beloved island of the San Juans, on any budget

Photo: Thomas J. Story

Orcas Island: High & Low.  There’s nothing fancy-pants about Washington’s Orcas Island – people come to hike the lush rolling hills, soak up the coastal views, and maybe spot a whale.  But even in the laid-back San Juans, island living ain’t cheap.  Here, we’ve come up with great ways to stretch a dollar (take the ferry, pack a tent), as well as worth-it splurges (okay, the seaplane trip is pretty cool).  And whether you spend or save, the island’s slower, greener, more low-key way of life will suck you in.

Weekend Escape: High

Getting there: You’ll spend from $298 (standard round-trip fare per person) on the hourlong seaplane flight from Seattle to Orcas Island on Kenmore Air.  But it’s not any old plane flight; the low-elevation trajectory means you could spot whales, eagles, and seals from the air. kenmoreair.com

Eat: Make sure you book dinner at Allium Restaurant, which burst onto the scene in 2010.  Nothing can really top a bowl of chef Lisa Nakamura’s saffron clam chowder eaten out on the deck with views down Eastsound.  About $120 for two, including wine; 310 Main St., Eastsound; 360/376-4904. alliumonorcas.com

Do: Outer Island Expeditions runs $99 whale-watching tours, but for $825, you and nine friends get the 32-foot Blackfish and its knowledgeable captain completely to yourselves.  Which means you can organize your own fishing/crabbing/whale-watching tour all in one trip.  outerislandx.com

Shop: If $55 seems like a reasonable amount to spend on an ice cream scooper, head to Smith & Speed Mercantile (294 A St., Eastsound; smithandspeed.com), the alternative country store that sells a superchic one with a turned maple handle.  Nest (closed Sunday; 18 Haven Rd., Eastsound; 360/376-4580) has sweet, island-vibe decor like driftwood gates.

Stay: At $200 a night, Turtleback Farm Inn (turtlebackinn.com) is spendy for Orcas, but you’ll feel like you’re on your own private farm.  The Pippin room in the Orchard House gives you a deck overlooking the apple orchard and pasture – as well as Chompers, the friendly sheep – and the homemade breakfast spread stars eggs from the inn’s own chickens.  If you really want to go over the top, grab six friends and rent the luxe Cottage Knoll villa (cottageknoll.com) – with sweeping views of the strait and islands.  At (gulp) $1,000 a night, it’s still cheaper than a trip to say, Provence.

(Round-trip seaplane flight from Seattle to Orcas Island: $298; Turtleback Farm Inn: $200/night; Dinner at Allium: $120 for two; Private whale-watching tour: $825 for 10)

Weekend Escape: Low

Photo: Andrea Gomez Romero

Getting there: Think of the hourlong ferry ride from Anacortes to Orcas Island as time to unwind in preparation for a weekend with no cellphone or internet service.  Plunk down your fare and soak up the scenery.  $60 round-trip/vehicle with two adults; wsdot.wa.gov/ferries

Eat: At Passionate for Pies, the little shop in downtown Eastsound, filling for their excellent pot pies are sourced locally.  We loved the pork, nettle, and potato.  And it’s just $11, so you might want to splurge on a $5.75 slice of chocolate cream pie as a finale.  460 Main, Eastsound; 360/376-7437.

Do: The million-dollar views are all free on a hike up Turtleback Mountain.  About an hour in from the south trailhead, there’s a bench perfectly positioned for gazing out over the Salish Sea.  In late May and June, you’ll see wildflowers, wild berry blossoms, hawks, and teensy green frogs that are almost too cute.  South trailhead at top of Wild Rose Lane, off Deer Harbor Rd.; scjlandbank.org/turtle_back.

Shop: Local artisans gather at the Orcas Island Farmers’ Market (Village Green, N. Beach Rd.; orcasislandfarmersmarket.org) in Eastsound, which is a great place to pick up $10 dishes from Bivaletz Stoneware and felt pincushions from Bossy’s Feltworks.  Lily (310 Main, Eastsound; lilyonorcas.com), a postage stamp-size snack shop, has island-made granola ($9) as well as island-roasted coffee (10.50) to take home and Lopez Island ice cream to eat right away.

Stay: A water view at $25 a night?  Yes, please.  Moran State Park, on the island’s eastern side, is home to Mt. Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands – as well as five fresh-water lakes, more than 35 miles of trails, and 151 tent spaces.  A “premium site” gets you a lake view for $25.  3572 Olga Rd., Olga; parks.wa.gov.

(Round-trip ferry ride from Anacortes: $60; Camping at Moran State Park: $25/night; Lunch at Passionate for Pies: $11; Hike up Turtleback Mountain for amazing views: Free.

Article by: Jess Thompson

Subscribe to Sunset Magazine – Click Here

Bed & Breakfast, Blog, Eastsound, Location, Lodging, Moran State Park, Orcas Island, Travel, Turtleback Mountain Preserve, Uncategorized, Vacation