CAI-PNW invaded Fort Worden State Park for three days of hiking, food and comradery. Port Townsend is a historical town on the Washington coast. It is a short ferry ride out of Edmonds to Kingston then, along highway 104 turning north at the Shine quarry site towards Port Townsend.
Our guides for the weekend were Mike Smallwood, Richard and Susie Thomas. They are residents and we were lucky to have them share their knowledge and history of Port Townsend.

Day One

Day one was a warm-up of afternoon walking among the Victorian houses on the ridge about Port Townsend. Mike Smallwood led the event and shared insights of how the neighborhood came about, the construction techniques used (or lack thereof) and how ups and downs of the economy over time impacted the area.

The end of our first day was piqued by a hiker’s feast. There was a good selection of foods, as well as amazing hand-made tortes from Gerlinde Gruber. The evening was filled with good conversation and stories from which we all got to know each other better.

Saturday morning, we had breakfast together and made quick work of any left-over torte. Everyone got to make their own sandwiches and add fruit for a planned mid-day lunch.

Day two

8.1 miles was a walking tour lead by Richard and Susie Thomas. In the morning, they led us around Fort Worden, explaining its construction and history. We climbed around the armament structures that created a supposed barrier to sea invasions, though it was never tested. Stationed here were large groups of military personnel during the end of the 1800’s to the early 1900’s. Better put was that the men were sequestered at Fort Worden as they had little interaction with the local population. They spent most of their time marching, sending large shells into the strait to target barges and whatever they could come up with that qualified as entertainment.

One of the more interesting parts of constructing the Fort we learned was that all the cement had to be brought around the Horn as there were no other cement plants in the Western U.S. at the time. The mix of water and components was brought about by horse drawn trawls with the horses wearing booties to protect them from abrasions and infections.

Yet another; naturally, as there was an effort to fortify these structures from attacks that never came, there was a strong interest in concentrating the armaments into tight configurations. The percussion that were generated in such tight places damaged many ear drums of personnel and as we know now, were cause for many internal damages from the shock waves traveling through their bodies.

After eating our lunch at the Commons, Richard and Suzie led us on a tour of the beach just under Fort Worden. High steep banks hide secrets of many parts of local history. Woolly mammoth tusks have been found protruding from the layers. Just below that are layers of peat two or more feet thick. Below that, greatly compacted debris field layers, evidence that ice sheets, determined to be some 5000 feet thick, worked though the area over time.

Suzie is an expert in mushroom hunting. Along the way, we all looked in wonder as she pried up samples and offered an explanation – of why this or that component would make one mushroom tasty or put you in the hospital. Most of us just nodded and smiled with interest; leaving our next trip to the grocery store to the range of our mushroom picking.

After not finding any tusks, we all walked with our heads down to search for beach glass; small pieces of glass of various colors ground over time by the action of the waves. Most finds wind up on shelves or in jewelry.

Our group wound up at the light house and trouped into the Fort and our accommodations. Many of the buildings have been fixed up to modern standards and in our building four rooms sharing two baths with a mini kitchen. Many buildings are under reconstruction in the Fort boundaries for future guest and event uses. The area closest to our building is being developed for glamping; “glamor camping” for those used to more remote accommodations.
The last day was again led by Richard and Suzie. They took us through the history of the downtown and surrounding community. The stories were highlighted by many of the colorful events of Port Townsend and its characters. This included the peaks and valleys of economic impacts, the year 1899 being the height of construction before a worldwide panic. The unusual nature in how buildings were constructed. Richard told the story of being “Shanghaied”, how a poor farm boy might find himself in a pub one minute and wake up as a deck hand going to sea the next. We also learned that “good” women did not go to “downtown” Port Townsend, but stayed “uptown”. The day ended conveniently to allow us time to contribute to the local economy with some early holiday shopping.

Many thanks to Gerlinde for preparing tasty meals for us. We appreciate how much time and effort you spent doing this. Also thanks to our guides, Richard, Suzie and Mike for providing insights into your community and its history.

Joel Patience

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