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Friends Notes

Keep up to date with news from Friends of Skagit Beaches

Climate Change in Haiku lecture

Over 100 people attended Friends of Skagit Beaches first lecture of 2016, "Climate Change in Haiku" by Dr. Gregory Johnson on Friday, January 15.  Dr. Johnson distilled the entire United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report into 19 illustrated haiku. His work of art provides powerful talking points and a visual guide to understanding this important document.

View the haiku and illustrations on the Sightline website. 

Curtis Wharf - The Heart of the Working Waterfront

Curtis Wharf - The Heart of the Working Waterfront

By Jan Hersey

blog photo of Curtis Wharf ca. 1904, courtesy Anacortes Museum Wally Funk collection

First mapped by Spanish explorers in 1791, the swift, navigable channel between Fidalgo and Guemes islands has long been the heart of the Anacortes working waterfront.

The channel’s deep, natural harbor spurred Anacortes’ dream of becoming a major northwest maritime terminal, and the waterfront quickly became the nexus of local commerce, governing the flow of goods to and from the city.

By the early 1900s, the busy shoreline hosted lumber mills, salmon canneries, ferry landings, the fishing fleet, and a “Mosquito Fleet” of small fishing and workboats.

Guemes ChannelShorelinemap1923

Guemes channel shoreline map ca. 1923 (cropped) courtesy of Anacortes Museum

In 1905, at the northernmost end of O Avenue, Melville Curtis (1849–1925), brother-in-law of Anacortes founder Amos Bowman, built “Curtis Wharf” on Guemes Channel. It quickly became an anchor for the city’s growth. There, Curtis established a coal and builders supply as well as the Anacortes Ice Company—providing essential ingredients for a growing city. A shipping dock and variety of waterfront businesses followed, including the American Express office, Standard Oil office (now American Gold Seafood), and the international Black Ball Ferry terminal.

Port of Anacortes logoWhen it was established in 1926 to preserve shoreline access for local interests, the Port of Anacortes began buying waterfront properties and tidelands, developing a shoreline infrastructure, and leasing properties to maritime and related businesses.

During the 1900s, Curtis Wharf itself hosted a café, grocery, Guemes ferry landing, sand and gravel business, and street car station. Having fallen into disrepair, however, in September 1992, Curtis Wharf facilities were demolished after efforts to preserve it failed. The original property now hosts a seafood plant and Puget Sound Rope. Just to the west of the original structures, a new area bearing the name “Curtis Wharf” was constructed. This is now an international marine terminal where you’ll find cruise ships and other large working vessels docked.

Environmental impacts

Another story, however, follows the property timeline, as well. Over time, and lacking attention to industry’s impact on the surrounding ecosystems, chemicals and wastes from this century of “progress” at Curtis Wharf and along Fidalgo’s northern and eastern shores came to pose a threat to the health the marine ecosystem and to local citizens.

Enter the Washington Department of Ecology’s Anacortes Bay-wide Cleanup of Guemes Channel and Fidalgo Bay. Beginning in 2007, a successful merger of public and private interests brought together the DOE, the port and city of Anacortes, and other entities to restore and enhance much of the Anacortes waterfront—including the Curtis Wharf area and Seafarers’ Memorial Park.

Today, with pollutants removed and/or contained, the Railroad Avenue beach adjacent to Curtis Wharf was restored, pedestrian access developed, and an appealing visual link of plants and lighting created between the beach and uplands. Passengers disembarking from the American Spirit cruise ship that docks at the new Curtis Wharf find an attractive link into historic downtown Anacortes.

Curtis Warf aerial

Aerial photo courtesy Joe Kunzler

And shoreline improvements continue. South of Curtis Wharf, the Quiet Cove property was purchased by the port in 2013; it surrounds O Avenue between 2nd and 3rd Streets.  In 2015, the Port purchased adjacent property on Commercial that includes the iconic Marine Supply and Hardware store. This new acquisition is currently undergoing evaluation for redevelopment to expand the port’s facilities and attract new business to Anacortes.

What would Curtis think?

Curtis Warf American Express Office

Curtis Wharf & American Express Office ca. 1904 (Melville Curtis second from left), courtesy Anacortes Museum’s Wally Funk Collection

In addition to his commercial efforts, Melville Curtis served two terms as Anacortes mayor, eight years on the city council, and sat on the Anacortes Parks board from its inception. He “sold” the Cap Sante headland to the city for one hundred dollars, naming it for a similar rocky outcrop in Quebec where he had spent much of his youth. On the day of his funeral in March 1925, the Anacortes American reported "offices, stores, banks and city hall, commerce and industry halted to pay tribute to the memory of the pioneer who had passed." This civic and environmentally minded entrepreneur would likely be proud of the progress that continues in his name.

Cleanup and Redevelopment at Quiet Cove

Cleanup and Redevelopment at Quiet Cove

Standard Oil Complex at O Avenue & 2nd Street (Nov. 1909), photo coutesy of Anacortes Museum

A D.O.E/Port of Anacortes partnership

By Betty Carteret

Quiet Cove has been anything but quiet over its busy history!

This latest Washington Department of Ecology–Port of Anacortes cleanup site is located on Guemes Channel, at the north end of “O” Avenue—a center of local commercial and marine transport since the early 1900s, when Curtis Wharf was built nearby.

One of the major industries established at Quiet Cove was the Standard Oil dock, with its office and distribution center located south of Curtis Wharf between 2nd and 3rd Street on both sides of O Avenue.  In the photo below you can see their Red Crown gasoline building across from where the popular Anacortes Soroptimist shop is located today. The distribution center provided Zerolene and Red Crown brand gasoline to a community whose boats and a growing number of motor cars were running on this convenient new fuel.

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Zerolene Delivery Cart ca. 1905,  courtesy of Anacortes Museum

Petroleum off-loaded from ships was stored there in above-ground storage tanks. With use and over time, these tanks may have leaked contamination into surrounding soils.

In 2013, the Port of Anacortes purchased the Quiet Cove property bounded on the west side by the old Standard Oil office, which is now occupied by American Gold Seafood at 202 O Street. The Port has mostly emptied a storage and maintenance yard that operated until July 2015 at the location where the old Red Crown building had once stood.

 Standard Oil Officecrp Standard Oil Office today

Standard Oil Building - then and now, courtesy Anacortes Museum

The cleanup process

Prior to any cleanup, extensive planning for redevelopment must take place. In November 2014, the port hosted a public workshop to solicit community input on potential uses of the property. Public feedback generally was in line with the port’s own feasibility analysis that found the best use for the site would be “water-dependent industrial uses” according to Port Project Manager Becky Darden. The port also is considering public access through the area on 3rd Street to avoid conflict with industrial operations and traffic on 2nd Street, providing a future link to the Guemes Channel Trail being developed by the City of Anacortes.

Also in 2014, a port investigation determined that contaminants at the site exceeded levels requiring cleanup under the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA). Groundwater monitoring wells were installed, sampled, and found to contain petroleum hydrocarbons and arsenic. Additionally, soil samples showed hydrocarbon and heavy metal contamination, including:

• Benzene

• Toluene

• Ethylbenzene

• Xylenes

• Total petroleum hydrocarbons (TPHs)

• Carcinogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons

• Naphthalenes

• Cadmium

Before redevelopment can begin, the Quiet Cove site will be remediated to address contamination. The site has been added to the list of projects being remediated under the Anacortes Baywide Cleanup program, a partnership between the Washington Department of Ecology and Port of Anacortes.

Other Guemes Channel sites included in this comprehensive shoreline cleanup include the old Wyman’s Marina (now Robinson’s Cove), Dakota Creek upland and shoreline, former Anacortes Box and Lumber in-water log storage area, and Railroad Avenue beach. For more information on this cleanup work visit the Trail Tales website or watch a short video at the Friends of Skagit Beaches Vimeo channel.

Guemes Channel site map 1

Guemes Channel Cleanup Sites, courtesy Friends of Skagit Beaches

From October 19 to November 17, 2015, Ecology solicited comments from the public on a Draft Agreed Order and Draft Public Participation Plan for Quiet Cove. The Draft Agreed Order spells out the agreement between the state and port on the remedial action needed to address the site’s contamination as well as necessary additional investigations and planning.

The Department of Ecology takes the lead on engaging public awareness and contributions to project planning through their public participation plan. As a recipient of a DOE Public Participation grant, the Friends of Skagit Beaches Trail Tales project supports Ecology in this effort through our website, newsletters, and interpretive programs. For more information, visit Ecology’s Anacortes Baywide Cleanup and Quiet Cove web pages.

If you missed the fall comment period, there will be future opportunities to get involved. To find out about them, subscribe to our e-newsletter, visit the Ecology public involvement calendar, or “Like” us on Facebook. For further information, contact Betty Carteret at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Arianne Fernandez, ecology site manager for the Toxics Cleanup Program at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Student-Made Marine Film Shorts

Student-Made Marine Film Shorts

As part of the 2015 fall Film Series, Trail Tales funded two short, student-made films about topics relevant to Skagit County. The first video "Forage Fish of the Salish" was shown at the fall film series on October 23rd. You can view this film on the Friends of Skagit Beaches Vimeo channel at Our second video about Skagit County Marine Reserves will be shown on Friday, November 20, before the feature film Mission Blue.

Films with Friends 2015 film series

Films with Friends 2015 film series

Get there early for a seat at this popular film series! Friends of Skagit Beaches and Trail Tales are again offering four feature-length, environmental-themed documentaries at its Friday film nights.  On October 9th we'll watch the documentary "Just Eat It" and on October 23rd we will have the special privilege of having the Samish Indian Nation share their documentary, “The Maiden of Deception Pass – Guardian of her Samish People.”

On November 6th we will watch the documentary "Easy Like Water" and on November 20th host Coastal Volunteer Partnership will show the film "Mission Blue". Prior to each showing, a short, student-made documentary will debut on topics of local interest and attendees will have an opportunity to meet the talented local filmmakers.  Doors open at 6:30pm and the program starts at 7pm at the Northwest Educational Service District 189 building,1601 R Avenue, Anacortes. Films with Friends is free and open to all ages.

Visit the Friends of Skagit Beaches events calendar for all film listings.