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Trail Times: Fall, 2021 - King Sisters Preserve

Updated: Nov 17

The King Sisters Preserve is an often overlooked little gem in our San Juan Island Trail System. Strategically located in the heart of San Juan Island near the corner of San Juan Valley and Boyce/Wold Roads, this roughly 2-mile round trip walking trail parallels San Juan Valley Road and will one day connect with the Old Military Road Trail (OMRT) in the nearby Zylstra Lake Trail system.

The historic background of these acres is a fascinating slice of San Juan Island history. Much of the acreage that became the King Sisters Preserve was originally filed as a homestead in 1883 for Joseph Friday by his father Peter Friday. Peter was the Hudson’s Bay Company Hawaiian (Kanaka) shepherd for whom Friday Harbor is named. Employed to tend sheep on the land overlooking the harbor, Peter Friday's was the only habitation to be seen for miles. When sailors coming along the coast saw the smoke from his camp, they knew they had reached “Friday’s Harbor.” He had been born in Oahu in 1830 and signed on with the HBC at the age of 12 but did not have the United States citizenship required to file. His son, Joseph, born of a native woman in Washington Territory was eligible.

Father and son worked the homestead together along with Peter’s new wife, Mary, who tended the cattle. Peter eventually lost the use of one leg due to syphilis and left the homestead, moving to Victoria where a large colony of Hawaiians had relocated after the closure of the HBC on San Juan Island after the Pig War, 1859-1872.

Also leaving the homestead, Peter began work as the cook on the Walter A. Earle, a schooner of the Victoria Sealing Fleet. The Walter A. Earle capsized off the coast of Alaska with the loss of all hands in a gale and snowstorm on April 14, 1895. Joe Friday's remaining provisions were sent to San Juan Island. (Brenda Pratt, Essay 10671) Times were hard in those days!

Since the 1930s, these acres were also owned by the well-known pioneering King family. In 2009 the San Juan County Land Bank and the four King sisters put together a plan to protect it, with some acreage remaining in family hands but the 58-acre majority purchased by the San Juan County Land Bank. The bulk of the preserve was eventually awarded to a local farmer under a long-term agricultural lease that protects fertile farmland and helps maintain the rural nature of the island. Scenic views of valley, forest and Mt. Dallas abound along with an active sheep and cattle ranch. False Bay creek and other drainage runs through this preserve, into Zylstra Lake and down into False Bay.

Northwest King Sisters Preserve Entrance

Walking the Trail

To begin the King Sisters Trail from the north, park at the Trail Head on the corner of Wold and San Juan Valley Roads or across from there on Boyce Road at the Park and Ride sign. Entering the trail from the south, you might find it easiest to park in the Land Banks Zylstra Lake Preserve parking lot and walk northwest a quarter mile along the road to the southern entrance.

Though fall has dimmed the colorful hedge blossoms of Rose Spirea and Nootka Rose, other delights await.

Even on a cloudy Fall day the Preserves trail is worth checking out. The main trail is a great example of a trail easement between road traffic and protected preserves or private property. Vegetation separates the walker from the road and a fence provides a barrier for the preserve, farm, animals or private property.

Rosehips (L) and Twinberry Honeysuckle (R)

Bright vitamin-C-rich rose hips and Twinberry Honeysuckle berries provide for birds and other critters.

Photo by Carla Hall -

The Blue Bird houses perched on posts along the fields are a welcome habitat enhancement. Beginning in 2014 after an absence of nearly 50 years, pairs of Western Blue Birds were reintroduced onto San Juan Island, a joint project of the San Juan Islands Audubon Society, the San Juan Preservation Trust, and others. Blue birds enjoy these mixed habitats next to fields and good cover where berries and insects are plentiful. In my walks along this trail in Summer barn swallows were the most prevalent, but walking here in Spring one might be lucky to see the brilliant blue flash of our Western Bluebird as well.

About midway, just west of where San Juan Valley Road makes a right angle, travel onto a little loop path through Willow and Douglas Fir and an understory of snow berry, Oregon Grape and Bracken Fern.

In the Fall, mixed habitat areas like these are also great places to look for fungus - mushrooms like this member of the Suillaceae genus. Note it has pores instead of the gills we sometimes expect to see with mushrooms and the blueing caused by oxidation when broken. (Color change when damaged is one aid in identifying mushrooms.) Fungus are essential to the health of many organisms and are said to be the origins of life on this planet. Please don’t ever pick up or eat a mushroom unless you are an expert mycologist.

A bench on a knoll provides a sweet resting stop, mosses, Glacial erratics and collections of field stone help make this a special spot

Further on the loop a treat lies in store as the view opens up into a pastoral scene and mountain vistas, Little Mountain to the south and Mt. Dallas to the west. A magnificent lone Garry Oak is sentinel, perhaps young in the 1880s when this area was homesteaded. The Garry oak’s scientific name, Quercus garryana, was bestowed by Botanist David Douglas in the early 1800’s to honor of his friend, Nicholas Garry, an officer in the Hudson Bay Trading Company. Garry Oak forests, once prevalent in the San Juan Valley (called Oak Prairie by the Hudson’s Bay Company), are important habitats for many island residents, human, avian and animal. As part of their mission of habitat enhancement and preservation, the San Juan County Land Bank works to provide enough sunlight for this remaining beauty.

Southeast entrance near the Lank Bank's Zylstra Lake Preserve parking lot

Looping back to the main trail one can continue to either end or complete a 2-mile round trip.

We are so lucky to have our wonderful and continually growing trail system with its ready access to nature and recreation. A huge debt of gratitude goes to many people and organizations; the San Juan County Land Bank (, the San Juan Preservation Trust (, the San Juan Island Trails committee ( and those property owners granting voluntary easements. Working together we create magic!

See you out there!

Robin Donnelly for the Old Military Road Trail Committee (OMRT).

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