Mary Leach Natural Area, Sinclair Island
“Wait a minute… you guys! There is a piece of public land on Sinclair Island that I read about. Apparently there was a lady who donated her land to the public before she died. Let’s go find it!” …That’s how our little expedition got underway.
My friends Andy and Izak will be joining me on my 250 mile sail to Texada Island in September. They will each have their own boats and our small regatta plans to storm Canada together. This weekend we rendezvoused at Cypress Island to hunt mushrooms. They couldn’t pass up the opportunity to see how well my little home could sail. Izak has more sailing experience than either Andy or I, and he had never sailed her before. He managed to squeeze some significant improvement in performance out of my little lady. And he informed me, much to my chagrin, that my ‘storm’ jib is just a regular jib. My Genoa is so big it made me think the other was a storm jib by comparison.
Saturday morning the winds were coming out of the south at a steady 10 mph. Perfect sailing conditions. We set off from Cypress and sailed downwind through Bellingham Channel. We dropped off Andy’s shrimp pots and then sailed back up-wind, giving the traps time to soak. That’s when Andy remembered the Mary Leach Natural Area.
A quick look at my handy Quadrangle Map clearly showed the location of the Natural Area. That meant we didn’t have to solely navigate on Andy’s memory of some bit of internet trivia. This is an approximate location shown on Google Maps:
View Mary Leach Natural Area in a larger map
This is truly the public land that time forgot. The path up to the property from the shoreline was barely identifiable. A decrepit, crumbling stairway lead up to a trail crowded with stinging nettles, salmon berry bushes, and large fallen alders across it. Climbing the hill to the main property, a disintegrating cabin, a grave stone, and a sign greeted us. The sign announced the ownership of the property by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The grave stone belongs to Mary Leach, and pointed out that she was a lieutenant in the second world war. This startling revelation had the three of us scratching our heads. Either a woman managed to make the rank of lieutenant during the sexist era of World War 2, or the property belonged to a man named Mary. Either possibility is astounding, though the former would certainly be cooler.
I’ve searched the internet for every combination I can think of with the terms ‘Mary Leach’, ‘Sinclair Island’, and ‘world war’. I haven’t been able to find anything other than a confirmation that the Department of Fish and Wildlife owns the property and that Mary wrote a book on the history of Sinclair Island; a copy of which resides at my local library in Anacortes. I intend to read it as soon as possible.
Investigating the rest of the thirty-five acre property clearly showed that Department of Fish and Wildlife’s plan to allow it to return to its natural state is being executed well. There are still clear remnants of the homestead: unmanaged orchards and an overgrown field. The property shows no sign of maintenance for many years. The land here vibrates with an unkempt, wild, and natural health.
There was no indication in the on-site sign or in anything I’ve been able to find online to suggest that the property is off limits to the public. Although on a private island, accessible only by private boat, I doubt it will ever see much use… just the way I like it. I may have found a new favorite spot!