Why Lummi Island?
by Nancy Simmerman, Lummi Islander since 1987; written January 19, 2010
PART A: A community in isolation.
I’ve lived in a community, McCarthy, Alaska, without normal access to the rest of the world. It’s fine if you move there because you LIKE being way out of the mainstream. It’s fine if you and the community have, over the years, built your lifestyle, expectations, and physical needs around isolation.
You plan for the home-schooling of children, for growing and hunting your own food to supplement a twice-yearly grocery shipment.You provide for your own firewood, water, electricity, outhouse, and emergency transportation. You have a mind-set that this is your chosen lifestyle. You cannot earn sufficient money within your community even though you live, by choice, a poverty lifestyle.
Pull the plug on frequent ferry access to Lummi Island and we have a greater isolation than McCarthy, Alaska. McCarthy has no road access but it does have an airstrip; we do not. McCarthy has a foot bridge, ½ mile from ‘town’, over a raging glacier river, from the end of the 63-mile-long gravel road; we have no foot access. Even local islands, which some compare to a ferry-less Lummi Island, have alternative accesses. Eliza has a public boat dock and an airstrip. Waldron Island has a public boat dock and an airstrip. We have neither.
Both Eliza Island and Waldron Island communities grew knowing these limitations. Lummi Island has enjoyed nearly 100 years of frequent ferry service, some private, most county-run. We all know that a few ferry runs to Fairhaven on calm days and no ferry runs on stormy days or Fridays will not allow this community adequate access.
The Lummi Island community cannot adapt overnight to greater isolation than perhaps any other community in this entire region. I predict that at least 75% of the residents will be forced to leave their homes at great personal and financial loss if the mainland dock is at Fairhaven. The Lummi Island community, as we know it, will be dead.
It makes no sense.
Because the Lummi Nation has accepted the legal validity of the ferry-dock lease for the past 25 years, they should be required to accept the lease renewal as well. If they insist that the original lease was invalid, and the courts agree with them, then all agreements pertinent to this original lease should also be declared invalid and all lands and other considerations conveyed to the Lummi Nation should be returned to the original owners.
PART B: Why I came to Lummi Island.
Most of my time in Alaska I lived in the small mountain-rimmed community of Girdwood, about 40 miles from Anchorage. I like the dynamics of a community of 500-1000 people, where neighbors know each other and generally solve their differences without outside influences.
The highway to Anchorage gave us access to all the benefits of a city: good shopping, employment, cultural events, a university, expanded social contacts and access
to transportation to the outside world, yet we lived in a small ski community that welcomed Anchorites for their recreation.
After 33 years in Alaska, most of that time self-employed as an outdoor photographer and writer, I wanted to retire to a gentler climate where I could grow my own food and begin my next (very small) business, that of a spinner and knitwear designer and maker.
While in Alaska, I actually wrote down a list of preferences for a future retirement location:
— Again, a small community of about 1000, a bit isolated from the mainstream with its drawbacks of congestion and crime;
— Within 50 miles of a small city with a university; (Bellingham)
— Physical limitations to community growth; (in Alaska, mountains; on Lummi, shoreline)
— Some sort of ‘filter’ (the ferry!) that kept the world from inundating the community;
— A place where I could walk safely after dark for the rest of my life;
— A West Coast location where air pollution is less than farther east; (It’s horrid in Ohio.)
— Easy access to air travel; (My dad is 99 years old and in a nursing home in Ohio.)
Further refining the search (can you believe this?) I wanted about five partially forested acres for firewood, a gentle south-facing slope for gardening, and good drinking water. All this should be located about a mile from the post office, ferry dock, library and store to make an inviting daily walk. It’s hard to believe but it all came together in 1986 – with the added bonus of a neighbor who raised sheep but didn’t want the wool!
I hand-dug extensive gardens in the rocky soil and built a straw-bale house (the first in Whatcom County), planted an orchard of 17 fruit trees, began raising a few raspberries for sale and spun wool from the sheep next door.
I’m 72 years old now and living on very little income. I can live a ‘bush lifestyle’ as I have in the past, but I don’t want to – nor do I have the energy to start over elsewhere. Leaving Lummi Island is not an option, short of going into a nursing home and I’m not nearly ready for that.
PART C: What is important for my future on the island?
Safe access to the mainland is of paramount importance as is continuance of utilities and emergency support. We all know this.
We artists and crafters are already losing income from the three yearly Lummi Island Artists’ Studio Tours we depend on. As ferry fees increase, fewer visitors come. If the ferry cannot use the Gooseberry dock, this tradition of nearly 40 years will die.
Whatcom County must provide for utilities access to Lummi Island, including propane deliveries, garbage pick-up and recycling, electrical and cable repair trucks, road maintenance, septic tank pumping, fire and emergency vehicles, postal and UPS delivery, and the like.
If Whatcom County refuses to protect its own (us) with viable frequent ferry service then it should immediately re-assess property values and build an air strip, a public dock and a marina on the island.