Kukutali Preserve offers shelter for visitors and fish

The Kukutali Preserve continued its transformation this summer from private island to a system of public trails surrounded by intact shoreline habitat.

Formerly known as Kiket Island, the preserve on the Swinomish Reservation was purchased jointly in 2010 by the Swinomish Tribe and the Washington State Department of Parks and Recreation.

On a blustery morning in June, tribal and state co-managers dedicated a new visitor shelter overlooking Similk and Kiket bays, with a view of the Deception Pass Bridge. New signage also was installed, designed by artist Cecelia LaPointe, telling the land’s story from the point of view of both the tribe and the state.

A timeline reads, “Before the arrival of Euro-American settlers in the Pacific Northwest, Kukutali had been part of the territory of the Swinomish people. Here, women gathered cattails, men hunted and fished, and shellfish were harvested from fertile tidelands.” Kukutali is Swinomish for “place of cattail mat.”

Text alongside a painting of canoes landing reads, “Kukutali’s tidelands, and the waters that surround them, fed the Swinomish people well for countless generations. . . . Our ancestors wove weir nets from willow and cedar bark and laid them in the water. When the fish came into these nets we would pull them up and bring the salmon to shore.”

Since those times, a road was constructed to provide vehicular access, and the narrow tombolo that connects the island to the mainland was armored with riprap. In August, crews removed that road to restore tidal flow between Similk and Kiket bays.

“The shoreline armoring has isolated the beach from natural processes and this project will allow more natural gravel and driftwood movement to restart and maintain the tombolo and lagoon,” said Swinomish environmental director Todd Mitchell.

“Kiket Lagoon provides important rearing and refuge habitat for juvenile salmon migrating from the Skagit River to the marine environment,” said Steve Hinton, restoration director for Skagit River System Cooperative, the natural resources extension for the Swinomish and Sauk-Suiattle tribes. “The restoration of the tombolo will allow fish passage across it at high tides just like before the road was built.”

Daily high tides will cover the tombolo, blocking pedestrian access to and from the island for 15 minutes to three hours a day. During the summer, most of those high tides will happen overnight, when the preserve is closed. Daylight high tides mostly will happen during the winter.

Visiting Kukutali Preserve

  • Vehicle access is prohibited on Kukutali Preserve. There is a seven-car parking lot, bike rack, and restroom at the entrance on Snee-Oosh Road, on the west side of the Swinomish Reservation. A Discover Pass is required for the parking lot.
  • To protect the environment and habitat, no pets or horses are allowed. Shellfish harvest is prohibited. No fires or overnight use. Kayaks are not allowed from July to September to protect spawning grounds for forage fish.