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Trail Tales: An Idea becomes a Community Resource

cpm discovery point

If you are a Friends of Skagit Beaches member or volunteer, you’ve probably heard of the Trail Tales project. Just in case you haven’t, I suggest you take a walk along the Tommy Thompson trail along the waterfront in Anacortes and you will quickly come across the interpretive signs that bring the history of the waterfront to life.

I have been fascinated by how this project came to fruition. How did the idea behind the Trail Tale signs become a tangible and valued tourist attraction? Betty Carteret was happy to sit down with me and share how this project came about.

Trail Tales is the story of how one person envisioned an idea and created a tangible legacy for her community. I want to share this story because too often we just don’t know what to do with great ideas. How did Betty, the woman with the vision of what Trail Tales could be, go from dreamer to doer?

Point 1: Coming from different parts of the world, we can bring fresh ideas to a new community.

Betty came to Anacortes in 2005. She grew up near Williamsburg, VA, a world-renowned hub of historical interpretation for the American Revolution. She says that living in a community that celebrated its history and made it the center of their local economy taught her how engaging and educational interpretive programs could be. Williamsburg, one of many east coast colonial historic sites, preserves the history of the town while educating visitors from around the world about life lived over 200 years ago. Whatever your own ancestry is, it is impossible to wander through Williamsburg and the surrounding historic sites without having a deeper connection to the past. In Anacortes, Betty could see beyond the marinas, boatyards, and businesses to the history of the community. She saw a story worth sharing with local residents and visitors to the area, a way to combine enjoyment of the shoreline with a learning experience.

Point 2: You never know where an idea may lead you.

Another piece of Betty’s experiences also fed into the idea behind Trail Tales. In researching interpretive programs, she came across the United Nations Voices project. This multimedia project used billboards, voices, print and cellular phones to engage the public in a campaign to better understand the plight of underrepresented communities. Betty saw how different mediums could be used to engage people with learning. This informed her decision to create both a physical interpretive experience on the shoreline with a website for those who prefer and online experience.

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Betty on the trail

Point 3: Ideas are like seeds – they need roots before they sprout.

Friends of Skagit Beaches arose out of a need for members of the Skagit County Beach Watchers program to raise funds to support their volunteer work. Betty was part of that founding process and served as the first president of the board for this small non-profit. Friends had limited funds but a mission that drew many like-minded individuals to the table. As Friends grew and expanded its presence in Skagit County, they looked for impactful projects to support.

For Betty, the shorelines of Skagit County were, in her words, not seen – at least not with the historical perspective she brought from her old hometown. She saw the legacy of the past for both the First Nation tribes and colonizing settlers fading even as the Department of Ecology (Ecology) completed a major waterfront clean-up that redefined the waterfront of Anacortes.

These seemingly unrelated ideas didn’t come together until Betty attended an informational meeting for the Washington Department of Ecology Public Participation Grant program in 2010. What would it take, she wondered, to create a series of interpretive signs that engaged the public in the stories of the waterfront? Betty explored the idea with Ecology and they loved the idea. It was innovative and was seen by Ecology as a positive way to engage the public in understanding and participating in the decision process of their important shoreline cleanup program called the Anacortes Baywide Cleanup. Ecology had never received a grant application that proposed to use interpretive methods, including signs, walks, website, and films, as a way to promote public participation.

Point 4: Collaboration can make the original idea stronger.

Betty continued to develop this idea within the parameters of the grant with Ecology. She knew that it was going to be important to Ecology for the public to not only see the history of the waterfront but also understand why the clean-up had been necessary. The story of the clean-up, a cautionary tale of how historic industries had no idea that their working practices were harming the natural environment, showed how we can clean up the toxic by-products, restore natural processes and habitats along the shoreline, and rejuvenate the marine environment. The City of Anacortes Parks & Recreation Department and Museum, the Samish Indian Nation, and Port of Anacortes all came forward as partners to help make the Trail Tales interpretive sign project a reality.

At the dedication of the second phase of signage around the Cap Sante Marina and Seafarers Park, Arianne Fernandez, Ecology’s project manager for the Anacortes Baywide Cleanup, said that in her opinion, the Trail Tales project and waterfront signage was the best investment the Public Participation Grant Program had ever made. She further stated that “[the public] is going to forget why [Ecology] spent 10s of millions of dollars on this community . . . and look how beautiful it is now (Seafarers Park). You’re going to forget in a couple of years and this (interpretive signs) doesn’t allow you to forget why it was important. For us (Ecology) it’s unique and it’s critical . . . and we’re bringing you in to show other projects how it’s done.”

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Docent Training

Point 5: Seeds of ideas can grow into amazing experiences.

Former Friends’ Board member and Anacortes City Council member, Erica Pickett, said “Betty thinks big. The rest of us would have asked for a couple of thousand dollars and put up one sign but she went for an entire interpretive trail with dozens of signs, interpretive walks, and a website.” The Trail Tales grant has spurred Friends to a whole new level of engagement and activity in our community and left a legacy along the shoreline that will benefit the community for decades to come.

The City of Anacortes just granted the Trail Tales project a lodging tax fund grant to reprint the map brochure and repair damaged signs, acknowledging the positive impact the project has had on tourism. The Trail Tales brochure is often the first one reached for at the visitor center and allows visitors to explore Anacortes and engage in a historical journey that is still being played out in the city today. There are links embedded in the sign brochure that take the viewer to a website filled with videos and information that bring the waterfront to life.

I’ve walked the Tommy Thompson trail many times and I’ve enjoyed reading about Fidalgo Bay – looking at what there is today while also studying the pictures from a not so distant past. Betty is right when she says that when an Anacortes resident understands the history of this waterfront it will make that person’s experience living here richer. As someone who has only been here for the past few years, I think the experience reaches farther afield. Whether you have come from another place in this world or lived here your whole life; whether your ancestors were the settlers or indigenous tribes – the interpretive signs depict a universal cycle of development that some will celebrate and others will mourn. Either way, it is important to grapple with that. This is the power of interpretive education – all those experiences get to co-exist along with the ways in which certain agencies and non-profits, individuals and groups, have been working to restore the fundamental health of the nearshore environment.

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Fidalgo Bay - in a not so distant past...

Visit the Trail Tales website or next time you're in town, stop in at the Visitors’ Center and pick up a Trail Tales map to begin your exploration of the Anacortes shoreline.

What ideas have you been carrying around with you and what's one small thing you can do to help them find fertile soil? Drop us a line, maybe we can help!

Trail Tales Receives Lodging Tax Fund Grant

trail tale signs
Friends of Skagit Beaches received the good news on November 28, 2017 that their application to the city of Anacortes’ Lodging Tax Fund was selected by the city council to receive a $3000.00 grant. Board member, Betty Carteret, the project lead for the Friend’s Trail Tale project, submitted the grant application requesting funds to reprint map brochures and replace damaged interpretive signs on the Tommy Thompson Trail.

The brochure and map, which are available for free at a number of locations around Anacortes, show the location of interpretive signs installed as part of the Trail Tales project. At the time the brochure was designed, it was decided to include other landmarks and tourist attractions around town to make it useful for tourism. That decision has made this brochure/map the first on the that volunteers at the Anacortes Visitor Information Center reach for when directing tourists to activities and locations around town. In addition to that, the Port of Anacortes has distributed the brochures in the Welcome bags they give to boaters staying at Cap Sante Marina.

gull dropping shell by julie hallBetween 2011 and 2015, Friends installed 33 interpretive signs between March Point and Guemes Channel. The signs were funded by a grant from the Washington State Department of Ecology to highlight the history of the working waterfront and the Anacortes Baywide Cleanup program that has restored contaminated locations along the Fidalgo Bay shoreline such as Seafarers Park. Some of the signs have been damaged by vandalism or air bombardment by seagulls dropping tasty bivalve shells onto them from the heights to break them open. This damage had led to the premature deterioration of the high-pressure laminate making a couple of the signs in need of replacement. The signs were developed and installed in partnership with the City of Anacortes’ Parks and Recreation Department but are still considered the property of Friends of Skagit Beaches.

The city’s Lodging Tax Fund receives portion of tax monies collected from guests staying in local hotels and is awarded to applicants who apply and meet the eligibility requirements. The guidelines specify that money must be spent on things that directly relate to attracting tourism or are required to maintain or operate a tourism-related facility by a non-profit. The Friends’ application fit that bill and the city awarded the $3000.00 to print 20,000 more map brochures and replace two signs. Since the Ecology grant for Trail Tales ended in 2015, Friends has not had the funds to cover this type of expense. Friends of Skagit Beaches greatly appreciates this grant from the city!
It should also be noted that the city council committee that reviews applications also recommended that the Chamber of Commerce work with Betty Carteret and her sign development partner, Jan Hersey, to expand promotions of the interpretive trail as a tourism growth opportunity.

Marine Debris Project by the Puget SoundCorps

by Hillary Foster

This past year I, as a member of the Puget SoundCorps (PSC) through Washington Conservation Corps/AmeriCorps and WA Department of Natural Resources Aquatic Reserves Program, have started a new, long-term monitoring project regarding marine debris. The PSC has adopted the protocols for the NOAA Marine Debris Monitoring and Assessment Program. This project serves as a basis for nationwide monitoring and assessment of marine debris. It seeks to answer questions such as how big is the marine debris problem, how is it changing over time, and which debris types are most common.

Puget SoundCorps members Matt Morassutti, Hillary Foster, and Nathan Boyer-Rechlin with volunteers Rachel Best and Tom Flanagan getting ready for the standing-stock survey at Padilla Bay.

The data we will be collecting will help to determine types and concentration of debris present by material category, examine spatial distribution and variety of debris, and investigate temporal trends in debris types and concentrations.There are two study sites- an accumulation site in Fidalgo Bay and standing-stock site in Padilla Bay. Each site is 100 meters long and sampled monthly.

This project encourages volunteer involvement and we have had several volunteers come out and helped us to do these surveys, including Tom Flanagan and Rachel Best. The accumulation site seeks to identify debris material types and weight and their rate of deposition and flux onto the shoreline. The standing-stock site is a quick assessment of the total load of debris and is used to determine the density of debris present. Debris density reflects the long-term balance between debris inputs and removal and is important to understanding the overall impact of debris. All together this project aims to help in increasing our knowledge of the marine debris problem while working with community volunteers.

So far, we have completed 4 surveys since May 2017. We will be taking a month break from surveying while we transition from one PSC crew to the other but hope to start back up in October or November. Because so few surveys have been completed at this point and time, analyses of the data are not yet available. If interested in volunteering in future events, please e-mail Jamie Kilgo at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Volunteer Tom Flanagan assisting Puget SoundCorps members Matt Morassutti, Kat Wells, and Jaime Liljegren collect trash from the accumulation site at Fidalgo Bay.

 

 

Volunteers Rachel Best and Tom Flanagan with PSC member Matt Morassutti documenting a glass fragment in the standing stock site at Padilla Bay.

Photos by Kaitln Elsinger/Anacortes American

And you can see the Go Anacortes article by Kaitlin Elsinger here

Discovery Passports are a Hit!

By Betty Carteret

Friends of Skagit Beaches again sponsored the Discovery Passport activity at the 2017 Fidalgo Bay Day event on August 12th. This year was bigger and better than ever. We distributed 203 passports, which was double the total from last year. Kids (of all ages) had a great time grabbing their passport and heading out to visit the Passport Stations where they were challenged to answer a question about that station. This year we had 14 stations to visit and in order to collect a prize participants needed to visit at least 8. It was so much fun that most of the “Passporters” visited them all.


 It’s sooo hard to decide which prize to pick.

Our theme this year at the Information Table (Station 1) was reducing marine plastic debris going into our waterways and oceans. With that in mind, some of the prizes were reusable plastic shopping bags and produce bags (like the one in the above photo on Dad’s arm).

Participating organizations all agreed that being one of passport stations brought more enthusiasm to their interactions with visitors to their displays.

Again this year we offered a coloring contest to select a winner for next year’s passport cover design. We received 14 entries – that's double last year’s number. So, with the increasing number of participants and the joy of all the smiles and laughter, we’ll be back again at Fidalgo Bay Day with our 2018 Discovery Passports. If you’re interested in volunteering to help with next year’s passport activity, contact us a This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


 Early arrivals admiring the passport cover art!


Station 1 – Marine Plastic Debris Station: “I bet this poster has the answer to my challenge question”


Station 4 – Shannon Point Marine Center’s Touch Tank was probably the busiest station with lots of critters to see and feel.


Station 5: Deception Pass Foundation’s Gracie the Whale skeleton is really big and really cool!

FBARCSC, STEM, and the Next Generation of Citizen Scientists

By Wayne Huseby

It all started with a simple email in late February from my good friend Vicki Stowe asking if our group, the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve Citizen Stewardship Committee (FBARCSC), would consider hosting a “STEM Sampler” workshop. Vicki is a wife, mother, and a passionate champion for STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education in our local schools. Besides leading efforts to raise thousands of dollars for STEM programs, Vicki volunteers her time to organize and manage STEM activities for our kids. One of those programs is called “STEM Sampler”. The goal of the program is to engage each Middle School student in a hands-on, workshop oriented activity that exposes them to STEM subjects that they would otherwise not have time for in their regular school schedule. The hope is to stimulate some students to consider taking STEM courses that could lead to a rewarding and fulfilling career.

In late March, Vicki, Pete Haase (FBARCSC President), and I met for coffee to discuss a possible workshop. We decided that engaging students in one of our citizen science-based forage fish surveys (surf smelt eggs) would be a perfect fit. It would demonstrating how STEM can lead to new knowledge about a very important species of our marine ecosystems. One of the primary missions of the FBARCSC is to engage the community and provide educational programs about the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve (FBAR). We had no idea how we were going to do it, but agreed to host a workshop in mid-June.

What were we thinking! These were Middle Schoolers!

Vicki is a very persuasive woman.

Once we realized what we had done, Pete and I solicited the assistance of Erica Bleke, Aquatic Reserves Program, Washington Department of Natural Resources, to help us plan and organize how we would actually pull off the workshop. Erica had been a teacher so she had some experience working with kids, especially in a field environment. Thank goodness for that! Over the next several weeks, Pete, Erica, and I met a few times to work out a plan knowing full well that things would probably not go as planned. They didn’t!

This year’s STEM Sampler , the third annual, had 23 workshops for students to choose from over the two day event. Each “workshop location” conducted four (4) workshops, two workshops each day for two days, each lasting approximately two hours, one in the morning and one in the early afternoon. For “offsite” workshops like ours, students were bused to/from the Middle School. I must admit, it was a terrifying sight when that first busload of students arrived at the Fidalgo Bay Resort and we all realized it was “showtime”! We survived.

Despite some horrendous mid-June weather, our team of experienced volunteers did a fabulous job of explaining the what, how, and why of a forage fish surveys. Fortunately, the target, surf smelt eggs, were fairly abundant during our surveys so most students stayed engaged (not all!). The highlight for many students was putting their respective team’s sample of eggs under a microscope which was displayed on a large TV screen. The “oohs and aahs” from the students when they realized that some of the eggs actually had little embryonic fish inside of them with tiny eyeballs was telling! For many, it was the first time they had ever seen something like that. Discovering nature can be an exciting thing!

Although it was a lot of work to plan and organize the workshop, the expectation is that FBARCSC will likely be persuaded to participate again next year. As I said, Vicki is very persuasive. Besides, we can apply lessons learned and make it even better next year! The kids we had on the beach those two days back in June will soon be entering into adulthood. Having an opportunity to work with them and possibly influence a career choice is extremely rewarding. Even if none of them ever pursues a STEM career, our hope is that they all came away with a greater appreciation of our natural world.

Hosting a successful STEM Sampler would not have been possible without our dedicated volunteers. Following are some thoughts that a couple of them shared with me about their experiences:

“What was most impressive to me about the STEM Sampler was the level of involvement and community collaboration that went on in order to provide this unique opportunity. From my perspective, it is vital to get community members, especially local students, into Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve to learn about what the Reserve is and why its protection is critical to the overall health of the Salish Sea."
There are only eight Aquatic Reserves in the entire state of Washington and it’s a pretty fantastic thing for Anacortes students to have one in their backyard. To see students realize that their local beaches are not just a great place to walk, but are actually teeming with life that supports the greater Salish Sea ecosystem was a great thing to be a part of.
We’re more powerful together when we work as a team in order to raise awareness of our local resources and provide opportunities to get out to enjoy them. It was inspiring to see so many different agencies, non-profits, and organizations come together to help provide this type of hands-on, minds-on science opportunity for local students and I’m looking forward to doing my part to make sure it happens more often!” – Erica Bleke, Aquatic Reserves Program, Washington Department of Natural Resources

“The second day of the STEM Forage Fish program shaped up to be a beautiful morning, especially after a week of early-summer rain and wind. I volunteered for the program only two weeks into my new job, and had no idea what to expect. I checked in and was quickly introduced to the rest of the volunteers. By the end of the day, I was gobsmacked by the variety of organizations that were represented in the room. It began to dawn on me how replete my new home is with kind, collaborative, science-minded people. I worked with two different groups of kids, the first one was a very rambunctious group of younger boys, and the second had some kind and unassuming older girls. By the end of each of their programs, both groups were excited and proud to see the smelt eggs they had collected up on the screen! One boy liked it so much that he actually came back a second day”. - Keighley Lane, Intern, Pacific Biodiversity Institute

“As I had not done field work in a couple of years, assisting with the STEM workshop was very enlightening. It was an opportunity for me to learn, as well as pass along any knowledge that I might have to potential budding ecologists. The day was unfortunately, a bit blustery and cold, but conditions were ripe for learning. Each team was shown how to create a transect, collect samples, clean those samples, and then process the samples under a microscope. The most fascinating part was ‘seeing’ what had been collected, using the microscope. I think the science of what we were doing did not become real until the students were given the opportunity to view what was collected in this fashion. I believe we were all fascinated when we detected the various species by seeing ‘eyes’ in egg sacs. Various oohs and ahhs from the audience made this apparent. Though that could have been coming from the adults!

All in all, I believe the students had a good time this day. I think had the day been a bit warmer and not as rainy, they may have been a bit more engaged. I confess to being cold and a little distracted myself. However, I am extremely grateful for all the collected experts from this area that had far more knowledge than I did, as I personally, learned a lot. I’m happy that I was able to attend and assist in any way that I could." - Heather Conkerton, Intern, Pacific Biodiversity Institute

The FBARCSC is a small group making a big difference in our community and region. We are seeking new committee members who are interested in ways to promote, protect and restore the Fidalgo Bay Aquatic Reserve.It is not necessary to have a marine environmental background, only a strong desire for preserving the health of our fragile marine ecosystems. There are a many ways you can participate, be it citizen science, public outreach, or regulatory watchdog. Whatever your skills or interests, if stewardship of our marine environment is important to you, we would like to talk. For more information, contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or visit us at our website - Puget Sound Aquatic Reserves