A walk at Raab’s Lagoon holds sea life, history and more | Meanderings

Meanderings is an occasional series on local walks by author and naturalist Ann Spiers.



Off the cul-de-sac at the end of Kingsbury Road, Raab’s Lagoon is a watery sanctuary surrounded by green. From the lagoon, this hike loops along Quartermaster Harbor’s beach, north to Portage and back to Kingsbury Road. In the shrubs that enclose Raab’s Lagoon, song birds congregate, including a host of sparrows: Lincoln, song, white- and golden-crowned, fox and savannah. Eagle and osprey nests decorate tree tops. Overwintering in the lagoon, greater yellowlegs wade, fishing with long beaks and probing mud for invertebrates.

Now a county-owned natural area, the lagoon has housed mills and a state salmon-rearing enterprise. In 1968, its shoreline was enhanced by 2,500 yards of Gold Beach sand, as Nancy Silver reports in her book “A History of Vashon-Maury Island Re-addressed.”

Walk down the lawn to the shore edge where the lagoon drains onto the beach through a cut in the bulkhead. The outgoing water turns into a mini-waterfall at mid to low tides. We once broke a paddle when forging the gap into the lagoon. At lower tides, the outflow fans across the beach, attracting shorebirds.

Be cautious climbing down the bulkhead, a collapsing mess of wood, building materials and rock. Across inner Quartermaster, Jensen Point crawls with boat launchers. Dockton is to the south on Maury Island’s shore. The water view is broad, and the sky fills with clouds building in the southwest. Go north, around the shore’s curve. Ahead one mile, Portage is on the isthmus between Vashon and Maury. Portage’s shore is distinct, having a road armored with rock.

Kingsbury Beach, cobble encrusted with barnacles, requires careful treading. At the minus tide level, the shore is hard sand and some grey mud. A few large boulders host big blue mussels, barnacles, whelks housing hermit crabs and at least one small hairy chiton. The beach life’s diversity is low compared to the island’s outer beaches, where one boulder accommodates dozens of species and hundreds of individuals. Perhaps the harbor water is too warm, or pollution takes a toll, or the chemistry as a harbor naturally limits sea life.

Surprisingly, the biggest oysters, steak size, reside among the cobbles. Due to shellfish-harvesting closures, no one picks these monsters. Sand dollars and errant golf balls clutter the beach. Walk in the water; the southwest wind blows moon jellyfish to this shore.

The beach is named after the Alonzo Kingsbury family, which settled here in 1888. They logged, raised sheep and shipped clams to Tacoma. Their wharf is gone, but look for remnants of pilings, concentric circles in the beach matrix. The Kingsburys’ relationship with island Native Americans Tom and Lucy Gerand is featured in the Heritage Museum’s current exhibit, “Vashon Island’s Native People: Navigating Seas of Change.” Lucy sold clams, perhaps to supply the Kingsburys’ commercial shipments to Tacoma.

Today, the beach’s homes span building styles from wood-frame cabins, Northwest post and beam, split-levels, aristocratic Cape Cods, spiffed-up sheds and a curvy stucco worthy of Barcelona architect Gaudi. Beach walking allows this informal house and garden tour on one side and nature’s saltwater drama on the other.

Portage, approached from the south, is gorgeous with its curving shoreline, expanse of beach at low tide, and nature’s stuff floating in on the prevailing winds. Root balls and bleached logs protect the beach from erosion. This big drift also serves as a grandstand for the Fourth of July fireworks show. Instead of the rock bulkhead, driftwood naturally armors the beach and provides wildlife habitat. Nowadays, less wood is adrift in the harbor to replace the buffering logs.

Leave the driftwood, but take some trash, as a neighbor’s small sign suggests. Groups hold beach cleanup parties to haul away Styrofoam, firework debris and yard waste.

Portage’s history is many layered. Native Americans named the isthmus StE’xugw1L or “where one pushes a canoe over.” A permanent village of seven longhouses, 40 to 50 feet long, housed members of the island’s S’Homamish tribe, according to Lucy Gerand.

Marshall Sohl, island historian and artist, describes a tribal burial ground at Portage. He notes that in a madrona grove, “Indian canoe burial[s] [were] hoisted aloft in the trees… still aloft up until about 1905.” The Heritage Museum displays a photo taken near Portage of a white man sitting next to a split canoe, presumably a tribal burial casket. King County recently cored the Portage area, finding shell middens, the refuse of many tribal clam bakes.

Leaving the beach, cross Quartermaster Drive through the grasses and gumweed’s yellow, sticky blooms. In the wetland, spot the wader Virginia Rail, camouflaged among native spirea and non-native yellow iris. Fireweed and cattails are bursting into fluff.

The road across the isthmus, linking Vashon and Maury, was constructed and improved from the 1900s on. It effectively dammed any possible high-tide flooding from Quartermaster to Tramp Harbor. A debate heats up persistently over the idea to cut a canal from Quartermaster to Tramp Harbor. Proponents insist that a canal between the harbors would flush out Quartermaster’s pollutants.

Believing that “dilution is not a solution,” opponents question the benefit of polluting Tramp Harbor with Quartermaster’s historical and present pollution. Further, the hydraulics of tidal forces, the isthmus’ configuration and the harbors’ differing depths argue against a canal’s effective flushing, according to a UW engineering study cited last winter at a King County public meeting.

Leaving Portage for your return to the lagoon, walk Quartermaster Drive to turn south on Dockton Road. Turn right onto Kingsbury Road. This stretch along the narrow shoulder is part of the county’s Dockton Road Heritage Corridor. Its website reports that Kingsbury Road once ran “south atop pilings, hugging the shoreline of Kingsbury Beach and crossing the lagoon on a trestle.” No trestle exists today, but the road is wide with little traffic. Roadside are blackberries and apple, plum and fig trees. Admire the geometric art of the KIRO transmitter towers. On the road shoulder, the carroty Queen Anne’s Lace is folding their blooms into fists of seedy nests.

Complete the hike by getting wet; the lagoon is rumored to be a good swimming hole.

— Ann Spiers is a local writer and the coauthor of “Walks, Trails and Parks on Vashon Island.