Thanks to a partnership between Washington State Parks and the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community, Kukutali Preserve (Swinomish for "place of cattail mat") in Similk Bay near La Conner opened to the public on June 16, 2014.
With the help of the Trust for Public Land, Washington State Parks acquired the property in June 2010, after it had been owned privately for almost 100 years. Believed to be the first park in the United States to be co-owned and managed by a tribe and another government, management of the area focuses on conservation and research, public education and limited recreational use — including hiking.
The preserve includes 84 acres on Kiket Island and Flagstaff Point and 9 acres on Fidalgo Island, all of which are located within the Swinomish Reservation. Here, cattail mats were once used as temporary summer shelters by the local tribe during clam digs and salmon seining.
More than two miles of shoreline play host to native eelgrass beds, multiple fish species and shellfish. The preserve's diverse land habitats also house several endangered or threatened species, and a "rocky bald" -- an area with fragile, thin soil -- provides land for yet more native plants and waterfowl. The fragility of the land on the rocky bald dictates that access to Flagstaff Point be prohibited to protect the unique life that inhabits this area.
But there are opportunities for hikers to enjoy this area. Two miles of walking trails currently exist, with plans to add an ADA-accessible boardwalk, another trail and amenities such as a picnic shelter, picnic sites, interpretive information and two vault restrooms.
Start your exploration from the parking area by walking around the gate and taking the gravel Kiket Trail as it crosses a tombolo (a sand spit connecting an island to the mainland) to Kiket Island. The fill for this area has been removed to preserve the tombolo for wildlife, which means it is inaccessible at high tide, so plan accordingly.
Pass Kiket Lagoon and look northwest to Fidalgo Island, where Mount Erie looms in the distance. The Kiket Trail bisects Kiket Island and is the most direct route to Kiket's west side. For a lollipop loop, follow this road to a signed intersection and turn right for the North Trail. The singletrack North Trail has some elevation gain but is gentle enough for young hikers.
At its high point, a meadow overlook provides views of Deception Pass Bridge, framed by madrona boughs and old growth. From here the trail descends to a large meadow at the west end of Kiket Island, meeting up once more with the Kiket Trail. Continue west to find a second tombolo leading out to Flagstaff Point. This shoreline offers windswept views of Skagit and Hope Islands, as well as Similk Bay.
Home to a delicate meadow ecosystem, Flagstaff Point was — amazingly — formerly proposed as the site of a nuclear power plant by Seattle City Light. Head back along the gentle South Trail, peeking out at tiny High Tide Island's single tree from meadow balds. Meet the Kiket Trail one more time and return to the parking area.
The preserve is open daily for day use only, from dawn to dusk. A parking lot at the entrance is available for easy access to the preserve. Please note: Dogs are not allowed at the preserve.