Edmonds Kind of Play: Take a break from screen time with forest bathing and birdwatching

Double Bluff County Park (Photos provided by Jen Marx)

Sometimes the hardest part about making dinner is deciding what to eat. There are just so many variables with ingredients you have on hand, time, energy and — when you have kids, what will they eat without me explaining that they will like it. Picking things to do with the kids can be the same way. Right now, most of the options we’re looking at are outdoors. Though there are many factors as to why we’re outside a lot for activities, especially those shared with others, a big reason is our mental health.

In Japan, they call it shinrin-yoku or forest bathing and Dr. Qing Li wrote a book with the same name. Dr. Li says the “numerous studies” done on the topic prove it has “real health benefits.” He adds that the forest bathing program significantly reduced participants’ pulse rate and significantly increased participant ratings for vigor and decreased the ratings for “depression, fatigue, anxiety, and confusion.” Those are some of the reasons I have been getting outside, but I also need to decrease the amount of times I check the COVID cases per 100k in King County – I know that’s not our county, but they update the numbers in tune with my need to check them all the time. For the kids, who are t(w)eens, I will take the mood boost but also a bonus of time off devices, less playing Roblox (there was still talk of Roblox, which is seemingly inevitable,) and a maybe more reasonable bedtime even though going somewhere is often a hard sell.

So in the vein of a recipe meant to help with the whole “what are we eating for dinner” thing that inevitably requires scrolling to get to the ingredient list, here is a day trip that I took with my kids that went pretty well, which is always a good portion luck, and definitely relieved some of whatever that feeling is you have when the kids are online SO much, but it is how they keep up with their friends.

I follow some local birding resources and pages on social media. Birders post about their sightings with varying degrees of location details and I use the notes I’ve made, along with a spot where we saw orcas on a recent Puget Sound Express whale watching trip, to pick a day trip to Whidbey Island with three locations in mind: Deer Lagoon, Double Bluff County Park and South Whidbey State Park. (These locations had much less to do with the kids being willing participants than I am supposing being on the ferry did.)

Deer Lagoon was a pretty quick trip as it is flanked by private property and doesn’t have any actual parking I could locate that isn’t just in a residential neighborhood. As beginning birders with a budding photographer, this spot was good for us to get out of the car, walk around and see a few birds we’d not seen before, including white pelicans. I wouldn’t recommend it for much more than birding or photography especially considering all of the other nearby options.

We then headed to Double Bluff County Park, which is a beach on Useless Bay. I picked this location because when my mom flew up to see us for the first time since pre-COVID, she booked a Puget Sound Express tour and she and I had the most amazing orca sighting right there. Orca Network, a non-profit, “Connecting Whales and People in the Pacific Northwest” posts sighting info on Facebook, which I checked throughout the day of our Whidbey trip, and it had sightings in the area. While the kids walked around on the beach checking out sand dollars and other tide pool residents, I used my omnipresent binoculars to scan at the water. I should say that during this process, my son — who is into photography right now — noticed two huge bald eagles perched next to each other in a tree behind us. We couldn’t have timed it better as I recognized a Puget Sound Express boat and then two other whale-watching tour style boats that made it easy to find the orca from my spot on the bench.

So to fully set the scene, I was sitting on a bench with my binoculars, listening to eagles make eagle noises, while watching my kids walk around together on the beach in the foreground and orca in the sound beyond that. The feeling is truly hard to explain, but it is a good feeling, a feeling of luck and privilege and true awe, which sounds so hokey, but orca sort of glimmer in the sun and you can see the peninsula and a bit of downtown Seattle poking out — I kind of couldn’t believe what I was seeing. This area had a parking lot, but it was fairly small. We were able to park up the road some, not too far away, but it was uphill.

The view from South Whidbey State Park.

After this we headed to South Whidbey State Park, which requires a Discovery Pass ($10 for a day-use pass or $30 for an annual pass). I had read that the hike to the beach was steep and there were signs posted that the work they were doing on the path was not done and to keep that in mind if we progressed. South Whidbey State Park has other hikes, including loops, and offers campsites as well. The views and surrounding trees were incredible here, but they were not joking about the trail, which features the Meadowdale Beach hike style of down and in, then up and out. The stairs that connected the trails to the beach were no longer really stairs. We had to go up and down a dry and steep area next to the former stairs to get in and out of the beach from this trail. The kids looked a little worried I wouldn’t make it down that part — one of them said, “Sit down, Mom” —  but I was able to use some roots and make it happen. I was sore for two or three days from that part, but getting out was somehow easier and our time on the beach was worth it.

This beach has pretty incredible views facing west off South Whidbey Island. We saw bald eagles and osprey and Belted Kingfishers and some stranded jellyfish waiting for the tide to come back up. The kids hung out together some more here and asked to stay even when I was ready to leave, which is a great feeling in the land of Xbox and text messages. This beach has a lot of clay within the sand and they were able to mold shapes, which they left to dry. Previous visitors clearly had the same idea as their dried works rested on driftwood.

Our total driving wasn’t too bad and both parks had a bathroom option. It took 15 minutes to the first location from the ferry dock, another five minutes or so to Double Bluff and then 15 minutes to the state park. Once we headed home, it was about 25 minutes to the ferry and we waited in line as one ferry came and went. We caught the 10 a.m. ferry out of Mukilteo, $17.75 for a minivan and two youth passengers, South Whidbey State Park had the $10 day-use pass and the ride from the Clinton Dock back to Mukilteo was $12.25. The ferry ride is a quick one and when I was on the whale watching tour we heard that this ferry line had some orca sightings in July.

Both parks would have been great on their own, especially Double Bluff County Park if you add in that it has a dog park, parking or at least a flat location to do any drop offs as many  beachgoers did while we were there. We were also able to do this on a weekday, which no doubt made the ferry part quick and easy.

A map of Edmonds’ Yost Park.

In Edmonds, you can forest bathe in Yost Park, with many different levels of commitment and abilities. If you enter the park from Main Street at the intersection of Olympic
Avenue, you can walk down a gravel hill and there are two bridges that cover water that is often making the kind of noise people buy sound machines to recreate. As a part of Puget Sound Birdfest in Edmonds, there is a YouTube video called “Accessible Yost Park: A Guided Walk with Bev Bowe” and it shows where she has taken these guided walks starting in the Yost Park parking lot, which has some flat paved area before it becomes a dirt path that is still flat for awhile. We have seen owls in this area a few times this summer. If you are still at home more often than not, I find this video extremely soothing. The way Bowe talks, the sounds of the park, and her excitement at finding the resident owls all offer some of the benefits of being in the park yourself.

Yost Park is at 9535 Bowdoin Way in Edmonds with park and trail information at EdmondsWa.gov.

— By Jennifer Marx

Jen Marx, an Edmonds mom of two boys, is always looking for a fun place to take the kids that makes them tired enough to go to bed on time.

 

  1. I’ve lived here more than 60 years and have never been to Deer Lagoon, Double Bluff or South Whidbey State Park. Yet.
    Thanks for sharing.

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