EVERETT — All aboard to Jetty Island, just make sure to book a seat ahead of time.
The passenger ferry service is set to resume July 5 through Labor Day after being on hiatus last season during the pandemic’s early months. A deal between the city, Port of Everett (which owns Jetty Island) and Snohomish County is bringing back the short boat trip between the marina and the 1,500-acre sand bar and wildlife preserve.
“It’s the best beach in the state,” Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin said.
The island, originally made in the late 1800s to protect Everett’s harbor, is a popular destination during summer when people board the public ferry for sand, sunshine and surf. Since 2007, boardings ranged between 27,000 and 45,000, according to city data.
But relying on passenger donations of $2 for adults and $1 for children hasn’t paid the bills. For years the City of Everett has contracted with Argosy Cruises for the ferry, called the Queen’s Launch, at around $100,00 each year. At their highest, donations for the past decade covered less than 20% of the expense.
“Ideally it would be nice if it covered its costs, but I would be happy if it was half this year,” Port of Everett CEO Lisa Lefeber said.
This year, the Port of Everett is guaranteeing the $99,300 contract. Whatever amount fares don’t cover, the port will pay. Ensuring that waterfront access was important to the port, Lefeber said.
“We’ve been committed to partnering with the city on Jetty Island Days since the 1980s,” she said. “Last year was just so sad that no one could get out there because of COVID.”
The city scrapped Jetty Island Days last year in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and budget concerns. But the city council was keen to preserve a suite of “qualify of life” programs, including the ferry service, after last year’s pandemic-related cuts.
This year the schedule will be shorter than before, with 47 days compared to around 60 for the past decade. Other than the first and last days of the season — the Monday after Independence Day and Labor Day — the ferry is set for Wednesdays through Sundays. That schedule, with 28 daily trips Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday and 34 trips Friday and Saturday, cuts the two lowest ridership days which could help Argosy Cruises staff the boat, Everett assistant parks director Kimberly Shelton said.
As part of the new agreement, the county and port are working with Argosy Cruises to create an online reservation system and implementing $3 fees for all passengers older than 2. Children 2 and younger can ride free. That online portal is expected to be available in mid-June. Reservations can’t be made by phone, city spokesman Julio Cortes said.
Everett city staff are in contact with nonprofit groups to offer free ferry tickets for underserved communities, Franklin said.
Usually ferry capacity is 60 passengers per trip, but current coronavirus guidelines cut that number in half.
People hoping to show up on a whim and get on the boat could wait on standby this summer.
Those who make online reservations also get an offer for a reduced parking rate of $2 for up to eight hours. That offer may not be available for people who just show up the day of without booking ahead of time.
“This gives them a surety that they have a spot on the boat,” said Tom Teigen, director of the county’s Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, adding that Snohomish County is considering a similar reservation system for some of its parks.
Other than distancing between households on the boat and wearing proper face cover, there won’t be major restrictions on the island.
“It’s a 1,500-acre island,” Lefeber said. “Even at the max capacity of 1,000 people per day pre-COVID, there was plenty of room for people to spread out.”
The island is accessible all year for people who want to ford the Port Gardner channel in a boat, canoe, kayak, or paddleboard. Just don’t try to wade out and swim across. People need to be cautious to stay off the tidal flats all around the island because of suction caused by the sediment and ghost shrimp, similar to how rabbits’ warrens can make a field unstable. But instead of just falling through grass and dirt, feet and legs can be pulled down, like quicksand.
“Our rangers rescue someone out there almost every year,” said Shelton, Everett’s assistant parks director.
The city plans to hire an interpretive park ranger assigned exclusively to Jetty Island, where they host nature walks and Saturday night campfires.
As it has been for years, there won’t be garbage cans on the island. People who go there are expected to pack out and recycle and throw away what they bring over. Trash bins are available near the port’s Jetty Landing, on the mainland side of the channel.
There isn’t a store on the island, so people are encouraged to bring over ample snacks, sunblock and water. But alcohol and pets are forbidden.
A floating restroom is available at the Jetty Island dock.
Beyond sailing over for a suntan, the city plans to resume its beach cleanups, nature walks, sand castle contests and host part of the Schack Art Center’s glass float find, as well as educational events with Beachwatchers and Sound Salmon Solutions.
After this season concludes, city, county and port leaders plan to review how the new arrangement worked and consider the ferry service’s future. Everett signed a 10-year contract for the vessel in 2018 and extended it another year after the pandemic-scuttled season.