Man-made Jetty Island is a two-mile long oasis of sand and summer fun, with free foot-ferry service from Everett's waterfront.
It’s a blindingly bright day under skies that couldn’t be more blue and that haven’t hosted anything resembling a cloud in days. And as she sinks deeper and deeper into the sandy mud flats — first to her ankles, then to her shins, then to her knees and above — Amanda Bailey, of Bothell, shares her favorite pastimes from a lifetime of summers spent hanging out here at Jetty Island.
“A long time ago we would make forts and pretend we were survivors on a desert island,” says the personable 13-year-old who’s here today on the summeriest of summer days with a passel of friends.
“Now, we like sunbathing, and digging for these tiny clams,” Bailey says, holding out half a palmful of fingernail-sized clams.
“Later, we’re going to make a music video,” interjects Woodinville’s Ariel Soule, 12, who herself has sunk into the sand to just below her knees. (Ghost shrimp, marine worms and those clams have dug mini-tunnels in the sandy mud and that’s what’s caused the friends to sink.)
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“We’ll lip-sync to our friend’s iPod.”
Ah, the stuff that summers were made for: building forts, digging and sinking in the sand, sunbathing — even lip-syncing to the latest iTunes sensation. And perhaps no place was better made for summer than Jetty Island, this man-made mass of silt, mud, sand and riprap just across Port Gardner Bay, literally a stone’s throw (albeit, an epic one) from the Everett waterfront.
From folly to haven
Though a haven for summer recreation now — some 30,000 visitors make the three-minute ferry crossing each summer — the two-mile-long island got its start as a rocky breakwater for Everett’s waterfront sometime in the late 1800s. But the Snohomish River proved too strong and after it repeatedly broke the breakwater, attention and investment turned elsewhere and the broken jetty was left as an island.
Eventually, the Army Corps of Engineers began dredging the nearby channel, adding river silt to bolster the island. Birds, plants, sunbathers, picnickers, and swimmers — drawn by the relatively warm, shallow water on the island’s west side where the summer sun bakes those wide sandy flats, thus warming the incoming water — began converging on the island.
“I just like that it’s quiet here,” says 14-year-old Alexis Ogden, of Marysville. Just up from the long sandy beach, she sits on one of the countless driftwood logs while working a Sudoku puzzle and listening to Katy Perry playing on her iPod.
“It’s pretty cool here, especially when the sun is out.”
In 1985, Everett Parks and Recreation started offering free ferry service to the island, with more limited service at first. This is the second year in which the ferry has been offered seven days a week. It’s part of what they call Jetty Island Days, a program that runs through Sept. 6 and includes daily events on the island such as nature walks, puppet shows, tide pool exploration and more.
“People are intrigued by the sandy beach,” says Mary Jane Anderson, an Everett Tourism and Visitor Services manager. “It’s nice fine sand, which is unusual for out here.”
A free ferry is unusual, too. Not to mention popular, especially on sunny summer days such as when we visited. But since the ferry holds only 80 passengers and crossings are only every half-hour, unless you arrive early you can expect to wait an hour or more on nice days for an open spot on the boat.
So close, yet so far
Once on Jetty Island, you’ll find it hard to believe that you’re mere yards from a city with 100,000 residents and that boasts one of the largest public marinas on the West Coast. There’re no roads on the island, thus no cars. No electricity, no plumbing, no bright lights or big city. It’s like a step back in time.
Here, it’s a quiet, peaceful oasis where sand and dirt trails meander through tall marshland grasses; where eagles, herons and ospreys crisscross the skies above; where some 45 species of bird make their home, and views extend from Mount Baker to the north, to nearby Hat, Whidbey and Camano islands to the west, and the Olympic Mountains just beyond. To the south, the very tiptop of Mount Rainier peeks over a bluff.
“I love that you can see all around you,” says Carlie Greenland, from Lake Stevens, here with her sons Caleb, 2, and Ethan, 4. “From the mountains to the islands to everything — it’s beautiful.”
Certainly, Jetty Island attracts a crowd — more than a thousand visitors on the busiest of days, including seemingly every day care from Edmonds to Stanwood — but most people seem to congregate on the beach directly across the narrow (just a few-hundred-yards wide) island from the ferry landing. Walk 15 minutes north or south and you’ll swear the island is yours.
In recent years, Jetty Island has become a hotbed for kiteboarding, a fast-growing sport wherein participants on small surfboard-looking devices and harnessed to a large, crescent-shaped kite, are propelled across the water by the wind. Jetty Island’s conditions, including frequent afternoon and evening summer winds, are just about perfect not only for experienced riders but also for those new to the sport.
“It’s got warm shallow water, which is great for learning, and lots of wide open bay,” says Jeffro Rothenberg, kite-school manager and instructor at Seattle’s Urban Surf, a surf, skate and board shop.
On the mid-July day of our visit, there’s lots of sun but no wind and thus no kiteboarders. The scent of sunscreen is in the air though, and good for that, for Jetty Island has few trees and therefore almost no shade.
But it has a hot tub. For the day, anyway. A couple hours after I come across Bailey and Soule digging and sinking in the sandy mud, I spot them nearer to shore with about a half-dozen friends. Again they’re digging, but here where the sand is firmer, they’re not sinking.
“We’re digging a hole that we can all fit in,” Bailey explains. “Then when the tide comes in, we’ll have a giant hot tub.”
Ah yes, summer days on Jetty Island.
Mike McQuaide is a
Bellingham freelance writer
and author of
“Day Hike! Central Cascades” and “Day Hike! North Cascades” (Sasquatch Books).