On June 21, 2008, after several years of controversy with the Tulalip Tribes over land use, a new state park comprising 434 acres of beach and forest opens at Camano Island’s Cama Beach. Long known to have been a fishing encampment and temporary village site for local tribes, the location became one of the island’s resort spots in the 1930s. With many cabins still intact, the site was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Local residents, state workers, and tribes began plans for an interpretive park, but human remains are found during excavation, believed to be Indian, and controversy ensues. The official park opening on June 21, 2008 marks the end of a three-year legal battle.
From Fishing Encampment to Resort
For thousands of years before pioneer settlement, the property in question had been a fishing encampment and possibly a temporary village site for local tribes. After the Pt. Elliott Treaty of 1855 and eventual removal of tribal members to reservations, the spot became a logging camp from the 1880s to the early 1900s. Three decades later it became a resort.
LeRoy Stradley made a Great Depression journey from Iowa to Seattle in the 1930s. He had some means that included ownership of theaters, real estate, and a shipping newspaper, the Daily Index. Stradley purchased property on the southwest shoreline of Camano Island in 1934 and built a modest resort where people could vacation for little cost.
Stradley died soon after building his resort but the business was continued by his daughter Murial and son-in-law Lee Risk. Although more than a dozen other resorts operated on Camano Island during the 1930s and 1940s, the Cama Beach Resort outlasted them all, hanging on until its closure in 1989. World War II postwar prosperity slowly killed most of these small resorts. Recreational styles changed, people could afford to travel farther and most wanted more posh accommodations. Cama Beach survived, but barely, mostly serving a loyal number of regular customers. After its closure, it became a beachfront ghost town.
Preserving Recent Local History
Although this prime waterfront property could have given the family a healthy payoff in 1993, granddaughters Karen Hamalainen and Sandra Worthington chose instead to sell it to the state for park development at a bargain price -- 60 percent of its commercial value. As Senator Margaret Haugen stated, “They could have sold their resort for millions” (Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 12, 1993). The family even donated part of their proceeds to help with property improvements.
Camano Island community groups joined with the Washington Water Trail Association and the Center for Wooden Boats to help plan park development. The hope was to preserve a piece of local history by restoring the cabins and adding additional buildings designed to match their 1930s Craftsman style. The remaining old Cama Beach Resort properties were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001.With Respect to a Burial Ground
While digging new utility trenches in 2002, human remains and artifacts were found, believed to be Indian. Immediately the Tulalip Tribes asked that further excavation be halted. Work temporarily stopped in January 2005 and thus began a three-year legal struggle. Linda Jones, general manager of the Tulalip Tribes spoke to the press at that time saying “It’s such a sensitive issue when you’re talking about developing it as a tourist attraction and it’s a burial ground” (The Seattle Times, June 25, 2005). Or as State Representative John McCoy put it, “[Tribal leaders] do not have an objection to the concept of a park there. The issue is how do we take care of our elders without desecrating them” (The Seattle Times, June 25, 2005).
At one point the Tribes considered purchasing the property but the state, already heavily invested in the project, refused to sell. The Swinomish, Samish and Upper Skagit Tribes visited Cama Beach, supporting Tulalip in their request for further surveying as well as the care and preservation of the remains. The tribal coalition as well as parks officials considered including an interpretive reburial site to be included in the park plans.
State Parks Department archaeologist Dean Meatte helped monitor the project as well as Richard Young and Hank Gobin for the Tulalip Tribes. Gobin pointed out that his own inspection indicated fire pits and tools. Young stated that Cama Beach was the site of an Indian village that could date to the time of the Roman Empire and felt that this site could be of more significance than the Tse-whit-zen village found at Port Angeles in 2003. A 1970s history of Stanwood reported a news story that when the Cama Beach Resort was being built in the 1930s, two dozen Indian graves were discovered.
Few argued against the importance of the site but the critical issue was deciding how much of the area would be studied. Tribes sought to have the full site investigated, parks officials agreed to monitor relics found in the utility excavations and to set aside a place for reburial and an interpretive center.
In 2006 a Superior Court judge denied the Tulalip Tribes’ request to have work at the site permanently stopped. The Tribes also applied for the Indian village to be placed on the historic register but were denied in 2008. Explaining the board’s ruling, architectural historian Michael Houser told a reporter, “The general consensus was that the site is eligible, but they just weren’t pleased with the level of documentation. They sent it back for revisions” (The Herald, January 30, 2008).Official Park Opening
The official park opening on June 21, 2008, was no win for the Tulalip Tribes. Parks officials as well as Camano Island residents had hoped for tribal participation in the event but they were absent.
Today there are 24 standard cabins, seven deluxe cabins, and two bungalows available for rent. A new structure houses the Center for Wooden Boats which runs boat-related events and workshops in summer months and is currently restoring some of the surviving 1930s resort boats.
The park is located on the southwest side of Camano Island at 1880 S West Camano Drive.