Fraser Homestead Trail

Hours

Every day 8:30 AM - 11:00 PM

Review

Photo Credit: Bud Hardwick
On the south end of San Juan Island a pleasant and easy trail wanders out of historic American Camp (see article this website) through field and forest leading northward through the Frasier Homestead, one of the earliest pioneer farms of the San Juan Islands. The trail is rich in a variety of natural habitats but also in its history including: the Belle Vue sheep farm of the Hudson Bay Company, the joint military occupation during the “Pig War” years, and the early settlement period of San Juan Island.

Beginning in the American Camp it would be interesting to spend a little time at the visitor center to become acquainted with the unique elements of the local history. Occasionally, park rangers conduct guided tours of this exceptional trail. The area surrounding the trail has been used by humans for millennia for subsistence gathering but the path you will take follows portions of a far more recent wagon road that was constructed during the Pig War years. The road was built by the troops of both nations to connect their camps; but for social rather than military functions while they passed the time waiting for their respective governments to work out a, fortunately, peaceful solution (see San Juan Island National Historic Park article, this website).

In front of the trailhead, located next to the Visitor Center, are a group of small plant beds. The plants being grown here are intended for restoration projects around the park lands. Besides being native species their parent stock and seeds have been carefully selected to be representative of local genetic lines insuring that new strains are not inadvertently introduced into the park.

The trail begins delightfully as a graceful arc through grasslands and shrubs. The birdlife is readily apparent particularly in the earlier part of the day. The ecology of this open grassland was enhanced by natural and culturally induced burning. Such frequent clearing by fire kept the trees from encroaching and allowed smaller herbaceous plants to flourish, some being both beautiful wildflowers and an important food crop.

After crossing the Cattle Point Road (can be very busy with vehicle traffic in summer months), the trail dips and turns through grassy glades and small forests of different ages and species; some deciduous and others evergreen. Short boardwalks elevate you above potentially muddy areas for both your comfort and the protection of small delicate wetlands. To the west of the trail a line of tall old trees, many with wind broken tops forming strange even grotesque shapes are worth a closer look with binoculars. Frequently seen, eagles have found this a more peaceful location in recent years for perching and even for nesting. The grassy meadow separating you from the tree line provides ideal viewing conditions; far enough away to be able to clearly see the tree tops and not so close that your presence would disturb the eagles.

As the trail transitions from forest to farmland, notice the old dividing line marked by hand split rail fences, now nearly obscured by brush and vine. The trail continues northward and is far more interesting than one would imagine as it closely parallels Cattle Point Road. Passing glacial erratics and clusters of large tall trees, the trail twists and weaves as much as it can in its narrow corridor. The views become open and pastoral, a suggestion of the original farmland. Among the tall trail-side trees, the local birdlife concentrates for both protection and perching. Raptors frequently soar out from the higher limbs in search of prey, and some may even make this their temporary home, buildings nests and raising their young.

Interpretive signs and benches further enhance this section of trail encouraging you to slow down and enjoy the journey and the views rather than a definite goal. In time, this path may very well continue, recreationally connecting the south end of the island with the north, not entirely unlike it did once before.
Written By: Bud Hardwick
On: 6/30/2011

Directions

The easiest vehicle access and parking location for the Frasier Homestead Trail is in the National Historic Park’s American Camp (see article this website) on the south end of San Juan Island. The trailhead can be found just a short distance to the right of the Visitor Center building as you approach it from the parking lot.

Map

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