6026 156th SW
It may be a tiresome trope by now, but there certainly were silver linings in the year of pandemic quarantines. For expedition paddler Susan Conrad, her long-awaited second paddle to Alaska via the Inside passage was cut short after a year of preparation. The silver lining? She discovered the glory of her own backyard, the Salish Sea.
“I had prepared for close to a year. Then COVID hit. Once I got done moping, I decided to focus on what I could do: paddle on home waters. It turned out to be the ultimate staycation,” Conrad said.
Conrad, an author and motivational speaker, started the trip on the Kitsap Peninsula, crossed the busy shipping lanes with some trepidation and great skill, and found her next stop in Edmonds, where she “pulled up by the ferry landing and found a lovely fish and chips place.” It was just a few more miles of paddling to her next beachfront campsite at Meadowdale Park.
There, Ranger Doug Dailer is somewhat of a legend to paddlers on the trail, and this time was no different. He greeted Conrad with a welcoming smile and a log book to sign. People have been signing that book since Meadowdale was added to the trail. Dailer has even been known to treat his kayaking guests to baked goods. He shared his sizable three-ring binder full of postcards and thank you notes.
“People would arrive at their destination and send him notes to thank him. ‘We still think of the yummy chocolate chip pancakes,’ one note said,” Conrad recounted.
Even though a train runs through the park, “Ranger Doug” was a welcome sight, and helped Conrad feel secure as he kicked out the day users at dusk and locked the gate behind him. Dailer, who hikes and paddles himself, said whether it’s on a hiking trail or a water trail, “I try to be a kindred spirit, to make a personal connection with people as a ranger.”
“Meadowdale is a much needed spot on the trail,” Dailer said. “Because of the location” as one of only three trail stops that offers a campsite on the eastern shore of the entire 2,500+ miles of trail. The system provides a way to paddle the waterways of Puget Sound, Hood Canal, and around the San Juan Islands up to the Canadian border while having places of respite. Every pull out has a picnic table, latrine, campfire pit and an easy in-and-out piece of shore to pull a kayak up.
“It’s very civil camping,” Conrad says, adding that in Alaska you may not find a level, rocky spot to pitch a tent.
Cascadia Marine Trail was formed in 1990 when a couple of paddlers began discussing the dwindling number of shoreline pullouts as people were buying the waterfront land. Today, more than 80 percent of the shoreline is private property and inaccessible. Preserving the traditional marine route of trade and transportation of the Coast Salish people and later European colonizers is a remarkable feat.
Today, it’s a National Recreation Trail and one of only 16 National Millennium Trails as designated by the White House. There are 66 campsites on the trail today and 160 day-use sites suitable for pulling your kayak out of the water and stretching your legs on a land trail. The goal is to have a site for every three hours of paddling.
Executive Director of the non-profit Cascadia Marine Trails, Andree Hurley says “Interest is growing, especially last year — like everything outdoors.”
“My time exploring helped me appreciate what’s right in front of me. It really did,” Conrad said. “It gave me an appreciation for my local waters and how beautiful my own backyard really is.”
Water recreation sports can be dangerous. It’s imperative that kayakers and paddlers receive training and learn skills necessary to travel the marine trail. Membership in the Washington Watertrails Association is required to use the day and campsites, and helps the non-profit maintain the trail sites.