Park staff, beavers enjoy a busy year at Deception Pass

Deception Pass State Park Manager Jack Hartt poses for picture at Bowman Bay.

Jack Hartt and his staff at Deception Pass State Park will remember 2015 as another busy year bustling with visitors and projects.

If that wasn’t enough to handle, more than a dozen resident beavers kept them on their toes, too, toppling willow trees over roadways along Cranberry Lake.

“They’re just doing their thing,” said Hartt, the park manager. “I wish they weren’t so much work.”

Deception Pass State Park experienced about 2.6 million visitors in 2015. That estimate is about 100,000 fewer visitors than in 2014 yet still ranks as one of the best years in recent park history, according to Hartt.

The park generated about $2.2 million in revenue, similar to last year’s total, with the net amount going back into the state parks system.

“It’s been just a very positive, successful year,” said Hartt, who recently celebrated his 12th anniversary at the park. “I’m proud to have a staff that works here who are dedicated professionals who serve customers day in and day out, 365 days a year, and keep the place going for future generations.”

The numbers reflect attendance and revenue figures through October and estimates for the slow months of November and December.

Not only was Washington’s most visited state park busy with people in 2015, it was heavily engaged in park improvement projects.

Significant work has been done to restore naturally sloping beaches at Bowman Bay and Cornet Bay, Hartt said. Two cabins at the Cornet Bay Retreat Centre have been refurbished and made available to rent on a nightly basis. Restrooms have been remodeled and several Civilian Conservation Corps buildings have been re-roofed with authentic-style shakes.

The Bowman Bay project was completed in November. It involved removing a stone and boulder bulkhead, re-grading the beach with sand and gravel and planting native vegetation.

The intent was to re-create a spawning habitat for surf smelt, increasing the food supply for juvenile salmon and marine birds.

Washington State Parks completed the project in partnership with the Northwest Straits Foundation and the Skagit County Marine Resource Committee.

“The project is the one I’m most proud of right now,” Hartt said. “It’s something I look forward to for decades.”

The ongoing building project by the beavers is another story, though it draws a smile from Hartt. He was late for a meeting after finding a tree across the road in the park one morning.

At last check, longtime park ranger Rick Blank counted nine willows gnawed down by beavers. He said the beavers’ precision in dropping a tree where they want has been fascinating to him.

“It’s been exciting the last two months watching the logging operation by the beavers,” Blank said.