Four miles off Seattle’s western flank, between the isles of Vashon and Bainbridge, lies Blake Island Marine State Park. There are no cars, no roads, and apart from a ranger’s station, no homes.
There are also no bridges. The only way to visit the 472-acre wonderland is by water. Since 1962, Argosy Cruises has operated boat service from downtown to the island. In 2009, Argosy took over a cafe and dinner theater called Tillicum Excursion (formerly known as Tillicum Village).
All of that is coming to an end. Argosy announced on Dec. 13 that its boat tours and Blake Island restaurants have permanently shuttered, another consequence of the pandemic.
Washington State Parks is seeking new partners to bring back food and boat service. However the concessions contract works out, it is imperative that Parks restart some kind of public transportation to the island. It shouldn’t just be private boat owners who can experience this public treasure.
Blake Island is an oasis, a throwback to what this region once was. Deeply forested, raccoons scamper along its five miles of shoreline. Bald eagle alight on tree tops. Rocky beaches undulate as clams jostle underneath.
An ancestral camping ground of the Suquamish Indian tribe, Blake Island was said to be the birthplace of Chief Seattle. Standing on its northern tip, a gentle tideland of almost-white sand, you can look east to the city’s skyline and marvel at all that has changed.
In 1841, Lt. Charles Wilkes named it Blake Island for George Smith Blake, the officer in charge of the United States Coast Survey at the time. Over the decades, it was logged, made into an estate for a wealthy family and largely abandoned before becoming a state park in 1959.
About 100,000 people visit each year, most by private boat or an Argosy tour. It takes about an hour to kayak the four miles between Blake Island and West Seattle.
“It was well-loved and well-used by a lot of people,” said Amanda McCarthy, interim communications director for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.
Washington State Parks is seeking a partner to continue the boat service, restaurant and educational opportunities. As these conversations get under way, state officials should prioritize equitable access.
For so many communities, particularly in South King County, open space and a little bit of nature are hard-to-find amenities. Families across the economic spectrum should be able to walk the green trails of Blake Island, wade its secluded beaches, and appreciate its peace and connection to northwest history.
There is no firm date for Blake Island’s next chapter. It’s a tall order to get everything right, but this public park deserves to be enjoyed by all.