Illahee State Park: Right in the backyard
Last weekend, we took a trip into Kitsap County to see my Uncle Verne, who lives at the Department of Veterans Affairs veterans home in Retsil, outside Port Orchard. The facility was built in 1910 on a 31- acre bluff overlooking Puget Sound. According to the website, “Today the Veterans Home is a state-of-the-art, non-institutional facility providing a ‘Resident Centered Care’ concept that focuses resources around the individual resident. All primary services for a resident are available within a forty-bed ‘neighborhood.’ The Home serves 240 residents needing skilled-nursing care.”
Not surprisingly, the facility doesn’t quite live up to the description. While it IS a nice facility as far as nursing homes go, the walls are sparsely decorated and there’s hardly any feeling of warmth within its walls. And although every one of its residents could be considered heroes for their service to our country so many years ago, most of them…according to my Uncle Verne…are “knuckleheads.”
After lunch with Verne at Amy’s in Port Orchard – a great family restaurant with friendly staff, great food, good prices, and a comfortable atmosphere (I highly recommend it to anyone passing through Port Orchard) – we took a trip around Sinclair Inlet and headed north along Highway-3, past Naval Base Kitsap-Bremerton and north toward Sheridan. The first thing that I noticed as we approached the entrance to Illahee State Park was that it snuck up on us so fast that I thought we were still in a residential neighborhood. In fact, the edge of the park is bordered by the backyard fences of a number of homes. While there is camping in the park, its size is relatively small, however its location on the Puget Sound makes it a great weekend getaway for area residents.
Illahee State Park is a 75-acre marine camping park with 1,785 feet of saltwater frontage on Port Orchard Bay. “Illahee” means “earth” or “country” in the Indian tradition, and views of Puget Sound from the Illahee beach give the viewer a sense of what that word meant to native people. The park has plenty of parking space, lots of fresh air, facilities for a number of outdoor activities and access to a variety of water sports. The long drive down to the waterfront ends with a parking lot, public restroom and long pier that stretches out over the water. Walking out over the water, one can easily forget that there are private residences just a short distance away beyond the treeline. On a nice day, you can see both Mount Baker, Mount Rainier and much of the North Cascades.
On the way up from Lacey, we crossed the Tacoma Narrows Bridge on Highway-16, but our return trip took us south along Highway-3 to Shelton. It only adds a few dozen minutes to the trip, and we don’t have to pay the toll to cross the Narrows Bridge southbound. Joining Highway-101 in Shelton, it’s a straight shot south to Olympia.
While I can’t imagine making the trip back to Illahee for a weekend getaway, I does make for a nice, easy retreat for Kitsap County residents who are lucky to have this small state gem right in their backyard.