February, with its promise of spring, is a beautiful time to explore the Camano Island-Stanwood-Conway-La Conner area.
Hugging Port Susan and Skagit Bay, this region is celebrated in late winter with several festivals.
First up is the eighth annual Great Northwest Glass Quest, a treasure hunt that rewards successful explorers with a trove of artist-made glass floats. These fancy glass balls are fashioned after the Japanese fishing net floats people used to find on coastal beaches. The Quest is Feb. 17 through 26 on Camano and in Stanwood.
Unfortunately, the 12th annual Port Susan Snow Goose and Birding Festival, which was set for Feb. 25 and 26, has been cancelled (www.snowgoosefest.org) due to some logistical problems. Nevertheless, that won’t stop bird watchers from viewing wintering trumpeter swans and snow geese in the Stanwood area and on Fir Island near Conway.
In La Conner, the 52nd annual Smelt Derby offers lots of family fun, also on Feb. 25 and 26.
And at the tail end of all this, the third annual La Conner Daffodil Festival is in March. Realistically, though, some of the daffodil bulb fields in Skagit Valley could start blooming toward the end of February.
The Port Susan-Skagit Bay region is split between Snohomish, Island and Skagit counties, but it all has much in common. A visit to one place isn’t truly complete without a trip to the others. Water and mountain views are plentiful, as are great restaurants, shops and activities.
The mouth of the river where Stanwood now sits was first home to the Stillaguamish people. The history of the establishment of Stanwood and East Stanwood (the Twin Cities) about 100 years ago is replete with stories about flooding, logging and lumber mills, fish canneries, pea processing and dairy creameries. The towns consolidated in 1960.
Cross over to Camano Island on the Gateway Bridge, adorned with iconic Northwest creatures by metal artist Debbi Rhodes. The island is about 18 miles long and between 1 mile and 7 miles in width. Now primarily residential, Camano was first logged and then farmed, much like the Stillaguamish and Skagit river valleys.
To get a handle on the interesting history of this region, visit the Stanwood Area Historical Society, 27108 102nd Ave. NW in Stanwood (www.sahs-fncc.org) and the Skagit County Historical Museum, 501 Fourth St. in La Conner (www.skagitcounty.net/Departments/HistoricalSociety).
Agriculture still plays a big cultural role in Snohomish and Skagit counties. At harvest time, watch for festivals, markets, farm stands and farm tours in these valleys.
La Conner is located near the north fork of the Skagit River, and Conway sits alongside the south fork. The region’s dairy farms are fewer now, but Fir Island crop farms still boast soil from some of the most fertile river loam around. Potatoes, wheat, berries, vegetable seed are grown alongside flower bulbs.
And as it is with many beautiful, bountiful places, this region is home to many artists.
Lake Ketchum glass artist Mark Ellinger and his son Marcus, 36, blow all the glass floats for the Great Northwest Glass Quest.
They started making the floats last month, between their other work orders. The Ellinger team will produce 300 limited edition glass balls for the quest and another 100 uncertificated floats in case people want to just buy one.
“We love the quest because it’s a good, positive community event,” Marcus said.
To participate in the Glass Quest treasure hunt, pick up a brochure at A Guilded Gallery, 8700 271st St. NW, Stanwood, and head out to find a plastic “clue ball.” If you find one, return it to the location listed inside the ball and pick up your glass art ball. More information is at thegreatnwglassquest.wordpress.com.
Other notable places to see local art include Karla Matzke’s Art Gallery and Sculpture Park, 2345 Blanche Way on Camano Island, www.matzkefineart.com; and the Museum of Northwest Art, 121 N. First St., La Conner, www.monamuseum.org.
Port Susan and Skagit Bay are home to numerous shorebirds and waterfowl, herons, eagles, hawks, snow geese and trumpeter swans. These waters support some of the greatest concentrations of shorebirds, raptors, waterfowl, and seabirds found along the northern Pacific Flyway.
On Fir Island road between Conway and La Conner, the Skagit Wildlife Area offers a wonderful place to watch birds (www.wta.org/go-hiking/hikes/big-ditch-skagit-wildlife-refuge).
The Conway Muse, conwaymuse.com, in Conway is a great live music venue as is Anelia’s Kitchen and Stage, www.aneliaskitchenandstage.com, in La Conner. And Anelia’s has a nice Polish menu as does Polska Kuchnia, www.facebook.com/Polska.Kuchnia, in Stanwood.
Notable for breatkfast in Stanwood is Wayne’s Corner Cafe, www.facebook.com/Waynes-Corner-Cafe, across the street from the Amtrak passenger train platform. For lunch or dinner in La Conner, try Nell Thorn, www.nellthorn.com.
One of the Northwest’s best zipline tour companies is located on Camano. Canopy Tours Northwest gets people zipping through the tops of the trees in the Kristoferson family forest at 332 N. East Camano Drive; canopytoursnw.com.
The jewels among all the fine city and county parks in the region are the state parks at the south end of the island: Camano Island State Parkand Cama Beach State Park. Find out more at parks.state.wa.us/483/Cama-Beach and parks.state.wa.us/484/Camano-Island.
Walk the beaches, enjoy the views of the Olympic Mountains. It’s a beautiful time of year.