The islands of Pierce County

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

Not many of us think of Pierce County as a county with islands. It turns out that we have several – each with its own identity and character.

The most visible island, and closest to downtown Tacoma, is Vashon Island – which is King County, not Pierce County.

It takes a little more thought and investigation to find our islands. Our islands are not well-known (and most islanders want to keep it that way).

Some are tiny and uninhabited (like Cutts Island and Eagle Island), some (like Fox Island) are connected by bridges, some (like Day Island) barely fit the technical definition of ‘island.’ Some (like Anderson, Ketron and McNeil) are accessible by ferry, and some (like Raft, Ketron and Herron) are private.

McNeil Island has been an isolated incarceration center for about 150 years. It has limited public access and has been the (involuntary) home for several notable crime figures from Charles Manson, Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” 1930s gangster Alvin “Creepy” Karpis and Pacific Northwest bootlegger (and University of Washington donor) Roy Olmstead (featured in Ken Burns’ PBS series on Prohibition). Washington State Parks has had discussions on the eventual conversion of McNeil Island to a state park. For more on McNeil Island – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McNeil_Island.

Anderson and Ketron Islands are accessible by Pierce County Ferry. No Pierce County islands are accessible by the Washington State Ferry system. Tacoma does however have the southernmost Washington State Ferry terminal, but it goes to Vashon/Maury Island which is in King County.

Eagle Island is a 10-acre marine park property with 2,600-feet of saltwater shoreline near Anderson Island. In a lower than usual tide, it is possible to walk to Eagle Island from Anderson Island. There are literally no facilities on Eagle Island. It is a state park. For details see here: http://parks.state.wa.us/501/Eagle-Island.

Anderson Island is accessible from the Steilacoom Ferry dock. Anderson Island has multiple local parks open to the public. Details here – http://www.andersonislandparks.org/Home_Page.html. Anderson Island has a land area of 7.75 square miles and as of the 2010 census, a population of 1,037. The island also holds two good-sized lakes. I highly recommend Anderson for bicycle riders. It is not very hilly and holds many stunning views – and very little automobile traffic.

Cutts Island (also known as Deadman’s Island} is a two-acre state marine park near Gig Harbor: http://www.stateparks.com/cutts_island.html. Cutts Island also has an underwater park located half-mile south of the park, off the beach of Kopachuck State Park.

Herron Island is privately owned and is on the western side of the Key Peninsula. A pass is required to use the privately run ferry. Details here – http://www.herronisland.org/.

Beach at Andy's Park, Anderson Island                                           Photo by Morf Morford

Beach at Andy’s Park, Anderson Island Photo by Morf Morford

 

These are all saltwater islands, but several Pierce County lakes have freshwater islands: American Lake has Silcox Island, Short Island, Barlow Island, Beard Island (the last three are in the JBLM side of the lake). Spanaway Lake holds Enchanted Island (though technically it is a peninsula, not an island). Alder Lake has Bogucki Island. Lake Tapps has two large islands, Tapps Island (https://www.tappsisland.net/new/) and Snag Island (http://www.snagisland.net/default.php) as well as multiple tiny islands.

To put it mildly, island life is not for everybody. But islands are closer and more accessible than most of us knew. If you have a boat,  need a weekend escape or want to live out your Robinson Crusoe fantasies, you have plenty of options.