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Secret Harbor is a deeply formed cove on the southeast corner of Cypress Island. Much of the area is owned by the State of Washington and managed by the Department of Natural Resources but it is also bordered by private property. Due to private property access issues, hidden hazards from extensive demolition and natural area recovery projects, as well as the fragile condition of newly planted native vegetation, there is currently no public access to any of the upland areas.

Even without landing on the beach at Secret Harbor there is a wealth of natural and historical features to see. The shallow water while making boating difficult is one of the critical features that make this area so important for wildlife. When entering Secret Harbor, the circular cove presents an array of shoreline habitats. To the left or east, beneath the slopes of symmetrically shaped Olivine Hill, large shady trees and shrubs extend down to and lean over the shore. Often you’ll hear before you see, diving king fishers, noisily announcing their presence and letting you know that other tree loving species are nearby. The center of the cove’s shoreline opens to a small freshwater discharge backed by extensive grass and wetland habitat. Though they may be low flying or terrestrial, species that prefer these habitats, can often be seen. On the steep western slopes of the cove, the forest comes down to the shore. Sunnier and more open, it forms yet another habitat. High above these same slopes, eagles and vultures appear to circle effortlessly as if enjoying the simple pleasures of flight.

Within the cove, migratory birds, particularly in the fall frequent this area. Shelter and food are the attraction. Floating about separately or more commonly in mixed groups the many different species don’t seem to mind each other’s presence during this time of year. As the tide drops, the extensive mudflats become visible. Trooping up and down with the changing water levels, various species of wading and shorebirds studiously poke about seeking their preferred morsels. The herons however tend to appear more aloof and solitary. You’ll notice how far from shore they can wade, another indication of just how shallow the water in this cove can be.

If you’re early and better still are possibly somewhat shrouded by fog, you may find otters enjoying this cove. Rarely visible if they sense human presence, they are a special delight when you do see them. Scampering across the mud and shell beach, poking about for a shellfish delicacy or enjoying a shady mud slide under the trees they don’t seem to have a care in the world, though in reality they have to work just as hard for their food as anyone else.

Boating into Secret Harbor from the northwest several historical structures are worth looking for, but be careful of the water depth and subsurface obstacles while near the shore. Neither particularly noticeable or of apparent interest some old wood posts and a difficult to see small structure above the beach aren’t very noteworthy for themselves but are a reminder of an example of man’s inability to assess the power of nature. Years ago commercial electric power was brought to Cypress from nearby Guemes Island by way of a seafloor cable. It was at this location on Cypress that the cable came on shore. Everything went fine. Power was turned on; wiring on the island had already been prepared. Less than 24 hours later, the miscalculated strong currents of the Bellingham Channel tore the cable in half; thus ending the one and only attempt to supply electric power to Cypress.

Further into the cove look for a large now open concrete box just above the high tide line. This is the remains of what had once been a commercially important freshwater spring. The water from this spring and several others were so highly valued that it was transported to the mainland for such uses as: drinking water, refrigerator ice, salmon cannery processing, ice cream, and even as a highly touted mineral health drink sporting its own "Cypress Island" label. Ocean going ships often stopped to fill their freshwater tanks before a long sea voyage, believing that Cypress Island water stayed "sweeter" for a longer time than any other water.

An old dock and possibly the ruins of another even older one relate to a long history of the harbor's multiple uses. Not far beyond this structure, so low on the shoreline that its base is wrapped in seaweed is a short cylindrical block of concrete. Spouting out of its side is flowing spring water piped here long ago from a subterranean source. Though these two springs appear closely situated, due to the intricacies of the Island’s hydrology they apparently had completely different chemical compositions. The water from one of the springs was found to be so "hard" with minerals that it couldn’t be used for washing. Possibly this was the water that was bottled as a health drink. Whatever their past uses, the unknown health and safety of these waters make them strictly an historical curiosity and not a drinking water source today.

Secret Harbor borders, what on the island of Cypress is a rare occurrence of flat ground. Even more unusual was the extensive estuarine area that formed between the inland freshwater wetlands and the extensive mudflats of the cove. High tides and storm surges thrust marine species and nutrient rich seawater deeply inland flooding the wetlands. Rain and natural stream flow sent freshwater and land based nutrients out into the sand and mud bottom of the cove and the important eelgrass habitat of Deepwater Bay. A rich brackish habitat existed between these areas supporting an even greater variety of species than fresh or saltwater environments alone.

The ecology of what we now call Secret Harbor was fairly stable for hundreds if not thousands of years. Since ancient times this was the site of seasonal subsistence villages. Not only was there an abundance of fresh food during the summer but a great quantity and variety of food products were gathered, captured, harvested and processed for storage and eventual use during the dark days of winter on the mainland.

During the early pioneering period of Cypress Island in the late 1800s, Secret Harbor was one of the first areas settled. The first families as well as later generations lived by fishing, farming and logging. They planted forage crops for their cattle, sheep and horses; raised vegetables; and established orchards. These activities and the importance placed on farm land development effectively ended the previously free exchange between the freshwater uplands and marine environment.

Now managed for nature, the area of Secret Harbor will hopefully one day regain its full potential as a natural area. The site will additionally be used for research of native as well as recovering ecosystems. While there is currently no upland access available, a safe and careful cruise or paddle through the deeper waters of Secret Harbor may still provide you with an interesting insight into the natural and human histories of Cypress Island.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 3/9/2010

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On the southeast corner of Cypress Island, Secret Harbor is a deeply formed cove on the far southern end of Deepwater Bay (see article this website). All the uplands are closed to public access due to private property, hidden hazards from demolition, natural area recovery projects, and delicate new plantings of native vegetation. The water depth in Secret Harbor is shallow. Much of the cove becomes a large mudflat during lower tides. Use care when entering or leaving Deepwater Bay, currents and counter-currents can be strong during tidal changes.

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