Deception Pass served various Coast Salish tribes for thousands of years before the Vancouver Expedition found and mapped Deception Pass in June 1792.
After Washington became a state, the land around Deception Pass was allocated and used by the military. After World War I, the War Department intended to sell the site to private developers. After various protests, negotiations and agreements, the land was committed to the State of Washington March 23, 1922. President Warren G. Harding signed and transferred the nearly 1800 acre reserve for state park purposes. The agreement stated that the land was “dedicated to the uses and pleasures of the people forever.” The State Parks Committee accepted the tract as a state park on April 17, 1922 and formal proceedings and speeches in July made it a reality during which the Anacortes Chamber and Island County Farm Bureau held an inter-island picnic at “the picnic grounds of the park.” (either at today’s Cornet Bay or East Cranberry Lake)
At this time there was no funding, management, or facilities even though the area was regularly visited.
Deception Park State Park’s history is deeply rooted in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Created by Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression, his program was put in place as a strategy to help rebuild the nation. The CCC’s work in Deception Pass State Park was imperative to the Park’s success. Before corps-members arrived to start any kind of work, the area was still regularly visited without the accommodations we are used to today. Since there was no Park staff, the work was planned and supervised by the National Park Service.
Two camps were established, one at Cornet Bay on the south side of the Pass and one at Rosario Beach on the north side. Once the camp areas were cleared and fully operational, the corps-members began working on the surrounding Park projects. The structures built followed a non-intrusive ethic that had a naturalistic or “rustic” design. The park planners wanted structures, trails, and benches to blend in as much as possible. The plans they developed called for the focus of activities to be at the beaches and North Beach in particular. When you visit today you will see these areas of focus have changed a little. Most obviously is the obsession with the Deception Pass Bridge.
Strangely enough, the Deception Pass Bridge was never a part of original Park plans but with funding through the Works Project Administration the bridge would be built. The CCC camps were responsible for building the roads leading to the bridge from both sides. It is remarkable how much this bridge impacted the area. On the day the bridge was dedicated, July 31, 1935, 700 cars passed over the bridge. Today, approximately 20,000 cars cross the bridges each day!
Visitors came to Deception Pass State Park because it was close to urban areas which made it easy to visit. In 1924, 26,000 visitors came to Deception Pass Park, making it the most visited park in the state (a tribute that remains true to this day). The scenery was amazing to many and this includes the structures built by the CCC as well as the Deception Pass Bridge. Over 80 years later, work done by the Civilian Conservation Corp can still be seen in this region, and some of the best structures remain in Deception Pass State Park.
To learn more about the park and it’s history, please refer to Exploring Deception Pass by Jack Hartt and Two Hands and a Shovel by Jack Hartt and Sam Wotipka.
More about The Bridge
It’s hard to imagine Deception Pass without the bridge. But until 1935, the gap between Fidalgo Island and Whidbey Island could only be crossed by boat.
From 1924 until the completion of the bridge, a small ferry called the Deception Pass ran between Yokeko Point and Hoypus Point. The ferry was owned and operated by Berte Olson, who was the first female ferry captain in the state of Washington.
Service on the small boat was, by most accounts, infrequent and the route was often canceled due to turbulent water conditions. Patrons were able to summon the ferry by hitting an old saw with a mallet. Fares were 50 cents for a car and driver, and 75 cents for larger vehicles.
Although she was barely 5 feet tall, Berte Olson was a force to be reckoned with. To many she was known as “Little, but Oh My!” For many years, Olson fought to prevent the construction of the bridge, even persuading Governor Ronald Hartley to veto a bill funding the construction of the bridge that had passed the state legislature unanimously.
Whidbey Island residents had called for the construction of a bridge to Fidalgo Island since the 1890s. G. W. Morse, a local boat captain and state legislator, spent decades in the early 1900s unsuccessfully lobbying the state legislature to fund the construction of a bridge. After years of broken promises and two vetoes, a bill was finally passed and construction of the bridge began in August of 1934.
The Wallace Bridge and Structural Company was hired to build the two span bridge at a cost of $420,000. Much of the labor was done by local out-of-work farmers who did helped build the approaches and did concrete work. Young men of the Civilian Conservation Corps also assisted with the approach routes, using dynamite to blast through the rock on both sides. Construction took just under 12 months. The bridge was completed on July 25th and dedicated on July 31st, 1935. Construction would have been completed a day earlier, but when it came time to lower the final section, it didn’t fit. An engineer quickly realized that the hot summer weather had caused the steel to expand. At 4 a.m. the steel had cooled and the last piece was lowered into place.
A year before the bridge was built, local writer George Albert Kellogg had this to say about the possible effects of a future bridge:
“What will become, I wonder, of the mystery, the shaded quiet, and age-old charm of those deep swirling waters and the shores that confine them? The lone ferry, chugging in occasional passage; that sense of detachment from a prosaic world when once you’ve gotten across to the island?
Do you suppose the island roads, congested with traffic, will invite the outdoor advertising companies to erect their billboards? Will these winding highways of dignified rural beauty end in a sacrifice to the brazenly flaunted values of clothing, cigarettes, and gasoline?”
- Total length: 1,487 feet (Canoe Pass span: 511 feet, Deception Pass Span: 976 feet)
- Road width: 22 feet
- Sidewalk width: 3 feet each side
- Height: approximately 180 feet from the water (depending on tides)
- Style: cantilever
- Over 1,500 tons of steel were used to construct the two spans