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Contact: Mike Vouri, (360) 378-2240
MITCHELL HILL BECOMES PART OF SAN JUAN ISLAND NHP
FRIDAY HARBOR, WA San Juan Island National Historical Park dramatically expanded its English Camp unit in September with the acquisition of 312 acres of woodlands and trails of Mitchell Hill, which adjoins the southeast boundary, eight miles north of Friday Harbor, announced Peter Dederich, park superintendent.
Making Mitchell Hill a part of the park is an action proposed in the park’s 2008 General Management Plan, and supported by a broad coalition of park stakeholders, and county, state, and federal agencies. It is the first major addition to the park since the 1970s and ensures that Mitchell Hill will be permanently protected for the benefit of future generations, Dederich said.
The property was acquired from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) through a $6 million Congressional appropriation included in President Barack Obama’s 2010 budget and backed by U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen and Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. The transaction was completed in partnership with the San Juan County Land Bank, and The Conservation Fund, a national land trust headquartered in Arlington, Virginia. A planning process will be launched soon, Dederich said, to determine how the overall area will be managed. Once Mitchell Hill becomes part of the national park, the Code of Federal Regulations will apply, and "some of those regulations are stricter than the state's," Dederich said. However, the community will be invited to participate in the planning process throughout to divine a balance of conservation and "appropriate visitor use," he stressed.
The DNR managed the site as one of its "Common School Trust Lands" for the benefit of public schools. To that end the land was to be protected and conserved for sustainable forest productivity while maintaining water quality, and fish and wildlife habitat. While grazing has occurred and timber was harvested in the 1940s and again in the 1990s, much of the site is forested with trees ranging from seedlings to 120 years old, including Western red cedar, hemlock, Douglas fir and Garry oak. The area is laced with logging roads and hiking trails, many of which appear on San Juan Island Trails Committee maps.
But some of the most exciting features on Mitchell Hill are traces of the historic military road that bisects the northern edge of the property. This portion of the road was constructed by Royal Marines to travel between American and English camps during the joint military occupation of 1859-1872. The road followed the path of a sheep run cleared by Hudson's Bay Company and Cowichan laborers from Vancouver Island. Visible along portions of the road is rip-rap — rock placed by British troops to reinforce the road — as well as wheel ruts from wagons that once rolled along the road. A few road cuts are evident on rock faces along the canopied forest paths.
"The military road, in essence, captures the period before the U.S. took formal possession of San Juan Island when the boundary dispute was resolved," said National Park historian Mike Vouri, author of four books about the joint military occupation era. "Not only did the road symbolize peacekeeping, it tied one end of the island with the other," Vouri said. "This is very much a part of the island's heritage."
Besides its historical value, Mitchell Hill is also treasured by hikers, horseback riders, bicyclists, and naturalists.
"Protecting the historical and natural values of Mitchell Hill has been a priority for me for the last several years. Mitchell Hill is both a great place to go hiking and the home of an important part of San Juan Island history," said Representative Larsen at the time of Mitchell Hill’s inclusion in the president’s budget. "Funding for Mitchell Hill will enhance recreational and educational opportunities for the over 250,000 visitors who visit San Juan Island National Historical Park each year."