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Originally published November 13, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified November 13, 2008 at 10:56 AM

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Trail Mix | Ron Judd

Stay at Cama Beach is step back in time

You could see the yellow kayak, bobbing through the waves stirred by a stiff breeze, at least a half a mile away. The sea kayaker was making...

Seattle Times staff columnist


Cama Beach: CamaBeachStateParkisopenallyear.Call360-387-1550forreservations,

CAMANO ISLAND — You could see the yellow kayak, bobbing through the waves stirred by a stiff breeze, at least a half a mile away.

The sea kayaker was making slow, steady progress against the southerly wind that Puget Sound knows so well, paddle dipping with power and purpose.

Fifteen minutes later, he came ashore at Cama Beach State Park and walked over, shaking saltwater off his waterproof clothing, pulling off his neoprene gloves.

"Is there a phone here?" he asked. "I need to call about where I'm headed tonight. This is the only sign of life I've seen around here."

The guy, traveling north to south down the Sound, had unwittingly capsulized one of the great things about living here.

Few signs of life. Less than an hour away from one of the West Coast's largest population centers.

In the minds of a lot of us natives, that sort of near-solitude is often relegated to the relics-of-the-past department. But it might be misfiled. Because of sheer luck of the environment that surrounds us and a few people wise enough to protect it, we still have access to special natural places decidedly not overrun by people, at least during the "off" months.

Cama Beach is one of them. The new state park, on the west shores of Camano Island, just north of Camano Island State Park, is a 1930s-era Puget Sound fishing camp pulled out of a time capsule.

Its two dozen brown, tidy cedar-plank cabins are arranged in rows along the shoreline, facing west over Saratoga Passage. At the park's north end is a grassy picnic area, a new kid's playground, park offices and a village store with vintage gas pumps out front.

No need for those anymore. Park planners wisely created parking lots in the wooded uplands; to get to the beach and the cabins, you either walk, or catch a shuttle. Most of the shuttle vehicles are electric cars, driven by park staff that drop you right at your doorstep.

It makes for a clean, quiet, beachfront-living area. An overnight stay at Cama Beach is, in every way, like stepping back two-thirds of a century.

Washington State Parks supporters — and there are too many to name individually here — should take a bow for this project, one of the most innovative state recreational assets created in our generation.

The Cama Beach property was operated as a fishing resort by Muriel and Lee Risk from 1934 to 1989. Their daughters inherited the property in 1990 and promptly began negotiating a sale/donation to Washington State Parks.

It took many years — and lots of clever finagling in a Legislature that's never made maintaining our current parks a priority, let alone expanding the system — to turn this vision into reality.

But the grand opening in June was a gift to all of us — one that will keep giving.

The dividend is huge in a tough economy. Cama Beach is simply a screaming deal, especially in the offseason. Front-row cabins that sleep up to five people rent for $30 a night through April 14, and a second-row cabin can be had for $17. Each is 14 feet by 20 feet in size with a living room, kitchen area and bedroom — none with bathrooms.

For less than the price of a first checked bag on some airlines, you can have 24 hours of peaceful bliss on the Puget Sound shoreline. (Those are special rates for the park's first season. They go up slightly starting next summer.)

The cabins are clean and quaint, with their cedar-plank interior boards lovingly refinished and just enough modern amenities (electric heat and lights, fridge, microwave and sink) added to make things bearable for us modern softies. Their beauty lies in their simplicity — and their history.

At the center of the complex is a boathouse, where kicker boats loaded with dads and amped-up kids once rolled down a ramp and splashed into the Sound for a day of exploring or fishing.

Thanks to restoration work by the Center for Wooden Boats, which has set up shop here, some of those boats, as well as canoes and other watercraft, are being restored, and campers can relive the experience.

At the north end, a pair of horseshoe pits await, each dug multiple feet into the ground by years of heavy-iron thuds.

They're likely to get deeper over the years, as Cama Beach becomes a new family tradition for new generations of locals lured here every summer. Our advice: Don't wait.

Right now, as autumn fades to winter, the beachfront camp is an ideal place to steal away with a good book, a stout parka — and the good sense to leave your gadget-belt full of electronic devices at home.

Sometimes, the lack of signs of life is exactly what you need to get yours back on track.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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About Trail Mix | Ron Judd
Ron Judd's "Trail Mix" column, which appears Thursdays in Northwest Weekend, focuses on the Northwest great outdoors -- with just the right amount of real life thrown in for good measure. | 206-464-8280

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