Cady Mt. Preserve


Photo Credit: Bud Hardwick
The highest summits on San Juan Island follow the flank of the Island’s western coastline from Young Mt of English Camp; south to the island’s highest peak, Mt. Dallas, situated above Deadman Bay and the Westside Scenic Area. At nearly 900 ft of elevation, Cady Mountain has one of the highest summits. Its location is different from the other mountains however in its more eastern inland position making it somewhat unique and affecting its ecology. On its upper reaches are one of the finest stands of old-growth forest remaining in the San Juan Islands and the best example of surviving Garry oak savannah to be found anywhere in the entire Puget Sound region.

The mountain’s contribution to the island’s ecology is evident as one views its massive bulk rising from the extensive lowlands that surround it. Sweeping to the southeast, the slopes of Cady Mt contribute rain and ground water to the greatest watershed in the San Juan Islands. Lakes, ponds, and wetlands abound in this area, the water eventually gathering along the bottom of the San Juan Valley before spilling into False Bay on the island’s southwestern shore.

Though the preserve’s elevation and inland location make it special, it is the combination of untouched old-growth forest and remnants of a once dominant habitat that are its most important natural features. At one time the dry western mountainsides of San Juan Island were dominated by open grassy savannahs with a generous scattering of Garry oak trees. With the introduction of European styled farming and industry the long established habitat of the island was dramatically transformed. Logging, farming, ranching, mining, and wildland fire suppression were all factors in the changes that occurred.

The preserve is now protected from most of these transforming activities. Yet, quietly and without fanfare, a battle rages on Cady Mt’s summit. A small group of dedicated volunteers attempt to stop the loss of the remaining grassland and Garry oak habitat that is being overwhelmed by alien species. By purpose or accident many exotic species from distant parts of the globe have found their way here. Unfortunately they have found fertile ground to establish and in conjunction with native species that have flourished from the human activities of the past 150 years they have quite nearly overtaken the native habitat.

Today efforts are being made to remove these encroaching and exotic species and to protect and promote the reestablishment of the native habitat. The change is not measured in grass and oak trees alone but also in the wildflowers and animal species that are associated with this habitat. Notable among them are the return of the mountain bluebirds that were once plentiful. Long absent, the expansion of native grassland and open woodland is important to this beautiful bird’s presence. At the forefront of attempts to reestablish this type of habitat, multiple methods, some currently being evaluated for use elsewhere make the preserve a large open air laboratory. Among the mountains massive bulk, it is the wonder of a small patch of grass, and a tiny oak that gives hope that one day people may see as well as experience a thriving example of this special and fascinating island habitat.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 7/22/2009


Cady Mountain is the highest inland summit of San Juan Island and is readily visible while driving west on either Beaverton or San Juan Valley Roads (look ahead to the right, northwest). As the Beaverton Valley Road passes Boyce Rd it becomes West Valley Rd. Continuing, the road rises over the southern slope of Cady Mt as it passes large Lawson’s Pond on the left and curves north closely below the mountain’s cliffy west face. Currently there is no public access to the Cady Mt Preserve, however, the San Juan County Landbank frequently arranges volunteer work parties in their efforts to protect and reestablish the native habitat.


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