“I’ve got a surprise for you!” Usually getting woken on a Sunday morning at 6 a.m. wouldn’t have gotten me all excited – but last Sunday, my husband certainly received an enthusiastic response. We were going to do an outing from the bucket list hanging in my kitchen cupboard. A trip that I had been envisioning for years now – a ferry trip to Blake Island.
We arrived at the Argosy fast ferry dock at the Seattle waterfront way early. It was a sunny morning with a whiff of fall premonitions in the air. There was a boat way at the end of the dock – it didn’t have the usual look of the Argosy cruise ships. But, of course, we had booked a fast ferry trip – the only Argosy trips available these days. Shortly after, a lady captain appeared to check our boarding passes. We were to be only ten passengers aboard, all masked up, baggage fitting onto our laps. Captain Karen Allred told us that the fast ferry – if I remember right, a Hamilton Jet – had been added to the fleet only last year and operated only since June 5 this year. It would carry us to Blake Island within less than half an hour.
It was total fun going past the cranes of Elliott Bay and past Alki Beach with its quaint lighthouse, then into the open waters. We even saw a seal pop its head out alongside for a moment, then curl its body sleekly below again. We arrived in less than no time. The harbor was already filled with motorboats. The beach was decorated with carved colorful totem poles, and above it all the impressive Longhouse was towering. Our Captain made sure everybody remembered when their boat back was due. As we had only been able to purchase return tickets for different times, we asked whether there was any opportunity to take a boat back together, after all. And guess what – Captain Allred made it possible! Now we could explore the island totally relaxed.
Where the landing is, Blake Island is quite level and grassy, by the way. There are picnic tables, and, farther in the back, a camping site. We started hiking the 2.4-mile-long loop trail around the island. We quickly came across an interpretive sign that told us that Blake Island is reportedly Chief Seattle’s place of birth. The island had never belonged to a single tribe, but had been shared as a meeting place. It makes one curious what kind of a meeting brought a highly pregnant indigenous woman over to the island, doesn’t it? The backside of the board told us about the infamously rich Trimble family, who had bought the island in the late 1800s. Cannie Trimble had been an avid gardener and turned the island into a park. To be honest – there is not much of that left; nor is the Trimble Estate, which burned down in an accidental fire in 1948. That was after a coastal artillery unit had left the mansion, having used it as a US Army post during WW II.
If there once was a garden or park, it has been overgrown again by the dense forest, multitude of sword ferns, and thick underbrush. The main loop is a soft, grassy path, winding its way along the abrupt cliffs, dipping into valleys and climbing up fairly steep again at times. Every once in a while, you catch a glimpse of other islands or the mainland, of boaters shooting across the water like silver needles, of sailing yachts moored close to the Blake Island shore. Little benches invite the hiker to take a rest about every quarter mile. And an interpretive loop at the end of the main loop tells you about the formation of the island and what use the indigenous made of its flora.
Of course, a visit to the Longhouse with its museum and gift store was another must. And here I learned to my surprise that Tillicum Village – such is the name of the minuscule Blake Island settlement – was created by local restaurateur Bill Hewitt at the time of the World Exhibition in Seattle in 1962. It was to commemorate the history of the coastal Salish and celebrate their artifacts. Today it belongs to Argosy Cruises. In 1993, President Clinton hosted the first Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in the longhouse. Pretty amazing what history comes with an island that otherwise is only passed by the Bremerton and Bainbridge ferries and that just looks like any other forested island in the Sound.
After a picnic in a beautiful, quiet area set off just for the purpose and blissfully ignored by all the hikers passing by, my husband and I went back to the ferry dock. Captain Allred greeted all her passengers by name – indeed she turned a trip that could have been just like any anonymous bus drive into something of a family outing, talking with each and every one about their individual island experience in a very personable way.
The trip back was a bit splashier, as the sea had been roughed-up by the countless boaters on this beautiful day, and we had fun riding the waves and taking a steep turn into Elliott Bay as Captain Allred’s colleague had taken over. We were back all too soon. But what a memorable outing! To be honest – I had once dreamed of watching performances and enjoying a traditional salmon bake on Blake Island. This trip didn’t afford us either – but the quiet leisure, the closeness to times past suited us probably even better.