Kukutali Preserve




Kukutali Preserve is the first Tribal State Park in the history of the United States to be co-owned and jointly managed by a federally recognized Indian tribe and a state government. The Preserve is located near La Conner, WA, and lies entirely on the Swinomish Reservation. The preserve encompasses 83 acres spanning 3 islands with over two miles of natural shoreline, and is adjacent to 38 acres of Tribally owned tidelands.

On June 16, 2014, Kukutali Preserve was officially opened to the public, marking the success of the first four years of a significant and mutually beneficial pact between the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community (SITC) and the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission. More important, it symbolizes a coming of full circle for the Swinomish people, who now have access to traditional lands and tidelands and can, once again, guide the stewardship and protection of Kukutali for future generations.

Our Kukutali Preserve logo is a representation of a cattail mat creaser. Creasers were small hand tools with a triangular relief notch on the bottom. The creaser was used in conjunction with a triangular cross-section rod to create a scoring across many cattail leaves to aid in sewing them together as a mat. The artist’s rendering by Swinomish Tribal member Todd Mitchell of the creaser includes two heads to represent the Tribe and WA State Parks, the two entities that have come together to manage this unique area.


Historic use of the area by the Tribe included shellfish gathering and beach seining for salmon. The traditional name of the area, Kukutali, means “place of the cattail mat”, referring to the temporary shelters of cattail mats erected at the summer clam digging and beach seining sites.


Although this property was privately owned throughout most of the twentieth century, it has remained relatively undeveloped and has seen little public use since the 1980’s. Upland acreage is a forested mix of conifers, including large stands of old-growth Douglas fir and Western hemlock, and deciduous trees interspersed with rocky, herbaceous bald habitats that sustain many rare and unique ecosystems and species. Bald Eagles, deer and coyotes call the island ‘home’, along with over 50 species of birds, bats, and small amphibians. The marine waters are rich in sea life. From the shoreline you can watch curious harbor seals and sea otters. Rocky beaches offer a secure support for sessile barnacles, mussels, and sea vegetation, while tide pools shelter tiny shore crab, colorful sea stars, and urchins. The Fidalgo Island parcel contains a 3.4 acre tidal lagoon and associated wetlands, a habitat deemed crucial in the recovery of the threatened Puget Sound Chinook salmon.


According to Swinomish Tribal Archivist, Theresa Trebon, Kukutali Preserve has an unusual, and occasionally contentious, history. Kiket and Flagstaff Islands were part of the land reserved by the Swinomish people in 1855 when the Treaty of Point Elliot established the reservation system. The Dawes Act of 1885 divided traditional lands up further and allotted the property, then known as Flagstaff Point, to the Clark Chubahud family. Historical documentation indicates that the Chubahud’s sold the property in 1928 to a consortium of Skagit County residents who intended to use it for summer recreational purposes. Gene Dunlap, one of the original purchasers and a prominent businessman, came to acquire sole ownership of the property, and in 1952 he began construction on his lavish, contemporary home on the southwest end of Kiket Island. The area remained in the Dunlap family for several decades until Seattle City Light and the Snohomish Public Utility District No. 1 purchased the property with the intent of building a nuclear power plant on Flagstaff Island. After several years of public and tribal dissent stemming from environmental concerns, the plans for the nuclear site were abandoned. In 1982, Seattle City Light sold the Kiket property to Seattle developer, Wallace Opdycke. Although treaty rights guarantee tribal ownership of the beaches up to the mean high water line, during Opdycke’s ownership all access to the Kiket Island beaches and nearshore areas was assertively denied.

On May 17, 2010, a historic co-management agreement was signed between the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community and the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission to jointly acquire Kiket Island (including Flagstaff Point) and an adjacent nine acre parcel on Fidalgo Island, and to work in partnership to develop, operate, and maintain the islands and associated tidelands as a unit of Deception Pass State Park. Land purchase was completed in June 2010, restoring to the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community a significant parcel of land that was reserved by to them under the 1855 Treaty of Point Elliot, and giving Washington State Parks some pristine acreage to add to the State public park system. This agreement was reached with the stipulation that the lands remain available for “limited public access consistent with protection of the resources and ecology of Kiket Island.”


The establishment of a managing board of directors was the first step in the co-management process, with three representatives each, appointed from the SITC and Parks. The board members put forth their vision for habitat preservation and restoration, park development and use limitations, scientific research opportunities, Tribal cultural and spiritual activities, and long-term management of Kukutali Preserve, and drafted a set of management objectives to provide a framework for these goals. Management is by consensus, requiring 100% agreement from all members prior to any action being taken.

In an effort to make the park accessible to the public at the earliest opportunity, the board outlined the anticipated needs for the day-to-day operation of the park and the expected uses of the facilities and park lands. Guidelines were incorporated into an interim management plan which provided limited guided tours during the interim period until the park was fully open. Further visioning of future phases of Preserve development and restoration resulted in a Kukutali Preserve Master Plan adopted by both parties after a public participation process. These agreements and documents form the background for the development of long term stewardship and conservation plans including the nearly completed Kukutali Conservation Management and Restoration Plan by SITC.

Goals and Stewardship Objectives

The long term goal of both the Tribe and the Parks was twofold; first, to create a 50-year conservation management plan with a set of guidelines to protect the unique ecosystems and enhance the biodiversity on and around Kiket Island, and second, to provide the general public with an opportunity to learn about the natural ecosystems and take a part in the stewardship of these lands. These objectives provide the structure from which all future goals and objectives stem. The primary objectives as set forth in the co-management agreement were to:

1. Actively preserve, protect, and enhance the natural ecological habitat throughout the preserve, including the nearby marine waters.

2. Promote the healthy functioning of nearshore habitat corridors for migrating birds, fish, and marine mammals.

3. Facilitate scientific research regarding the natural values and functions of the preserve, its tidelands, and nearby marine waters.

4. Respect and sustain the continuity of Tribal culture and the exercise of Tribal Treaty Rights at Kiket Island, the Kiket Island tidelands, and nearby marine waters.

5. Preserve, protect, and encourage respect for culturally significant sites and other cultural resources on Kiket Island and the preserve tidelands.

6. Provide opportunities for low-intensity, non-consumptive, and managed public recreational and educational use on the Preserve and its tidelands.

7. Provide programming and facilities to inform and educate the public about the natural and cultural history of Kiket Island and how to be responsible stewards for its future.


Research Objectives

Prior to opening Kukutali Preserve to general public access, a complete inventory of the natural resources and biology was completed. Research crews, under the direction of the Swinomish Department of Environmental Protection, spent most of 2013 counting birds and fish, identifying plants, measuring tidelines, and categorizing the geomorphology. The Swinomish Department of Environmental Protection was responsible for the geomorphology studies, which involved measuring beach elevations, mapping tidelines, gathering beach sediment and assessing sediment characteristics to determine substrate types and distribution.


"Kukutali Preserve Geomorphic Research – Karen Mitchell, Todd Mitchell, Jason Thompson, and Lexie Adams-Lett (June 2013)."

This research helps us better understand our nearshore, wildlife, and habitat systems in an effort to guide our management of Kukutali Preserve, provide conservation recommendations, and direct our protection and restoration decisions throughout the Preserve and especially to the areas needed the greatest protection or potential restoration. Recommendations for protection and restoration will be drafted into SITC’s Kukutali Conservation Management and Restoration Plan (in progress).

Kukutali Preserve


Phone (360) 466.7280
Fax (360) 466.1615