Strawberry Bay

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Most boaters, whether circumnavigating Cypress or cruising by, tend to pass outside of Strawberry Bay. Drawn to picturesque Strawberry Island and its wildlife or merely taking the shortest route along the indented coastline, the shoreline of this bay is seldom visited. Even from this distance however, houses closely lining the long beach reveal the majority of private homes to be found on Cypress. Today, the private Madrona Community (madrona is derived from the Spanish word for strawberry tree) is the only surviving remnant of the three original communities of the pioneer settlement period on Cypress (the other two being Eagle Harbor and Secret Cove). Farms, ranches, shops, post office, and even a factory for the Bellingham Cannery Company have all tried to establish permanent operations at this site. Long before these more modern attempts however, Strawberry Bay was a large seasonal village. Salmon from the saltwater with game and fruits from the uplands were gathered during the summer for use at permanent mainland villages during the long and less productive winter.

When early European explorers first arrived, they found a considerably different setting than today’s travelers will find. With little impact on the natural environment by the Native seasonal village, a large and highly productive freshwater estuary then bordered the saltwater environment. European biologists reported finding stocks of native cutthroat trout thickly inhabiting the stream. Species of birds, fish and terrestrial animals that required this type of environment were abundant. The prolific strawberries found growing along the shoreline gave inspiration for the modern name of the bay and nearby island. It was here that Menzies, the botanist with Vancouver’s 1792 Voyage of Discovery, found unexpected plant species growing on the island. We now know that their occurrence here is due to the presence of the extensive serpentine soils which in the San Juans is unique to Cypress. The most notable of the unusual plants that he documented belonged to a group that we call junipers. At the time of the early explorations however, this family of trees were known as cypress, thus the name of this locally rare tree was applied to the only island found to have them.

Unseen but of extreme importance to the natural environment of Strawberry Bay is what lies beneath the water. Fed by stream deposition and shoreline drift, the bottom of the bay is filled with rich fine sediments. The resulting habitat is exceptionally productive. The extensive eelgrass community provides many of the forage species desired by animals that visit the bay. Once, passing schools of salmon were so thick that from the highlands of Cypress they had the appearance of brown underwater clouds visibly moving up the channel toward the Frasier River spawning grounds. Today, though far fewer in number, salmon still sweep by on their journey north. Above the water, eagles are fond of perching along the shore, waiting for the shallower waters of the bay to force the salmon up near the surface where they can pluck one for a passing meal. Murrelets find the bay’s waters excellent fishing and can be found year-round. Along the shore during quiet seasons herons successfully stalk the shallows joined by troops of shorebirds following the changing tides. Otters are also commonly seen here. Bottom delicacies and the largely wild uninhabited shoreline make this one of their favorite areas to hunt, play and raise a family.

While paddlers may make Strawberry Island the focus of a visit to this area, the somewhat more protected waters of the bay may provide a rough refuge during bad weather. Traveling close to the shoreline, a longer but possibly less challenging journey may be made. While the beach and mooring buoys lining the bay are private, small boats can find a pull-out on the remote south end of the bay. Just above this landing, the trailhead for the Strawberry Bay Trail can be found. While camping is not allowed on this shoreline, or on Strawberry Island, day visitors can enjoy trail connections with the rest of Cypress Island by way of this trail.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 3/9/2010

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Strawberry Bay is the substantial bay formed between the indented southwest shore of Cypress and outlying Strawberry Island. Shallower water and reduced currents are found closer to the main island’s shoreline, though most boaters tend to cruise outside of the bay on the west side of Strawberry Island.

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