A path to one of Bainbridge’s great mysteriesAugust 17th, 2011 by tristan baurick
I called up city Road Ends Committee chairwoman Bitsy Ostenson last week to chat about the rumor that someone had built a deck and stairwell on the Pleasant Lane road end, a narrow strip of property intended for public beach access.
Turns out the rumor was true. Ostenson isn’t happy about the private use of public land, and is a bit nonplussed about the city’s reticence to do anything about it.
But this is not nearly the only island road end that needs attention, she said.
A big one in her mind is the North Street road end on Agate Point. It’s the only public access point to the beach where a rare rock carving has sat facing Indianola for some 1,500 to 3,000 years.
Known as the Haleelts petroglyph, it confounded Bainbridge’s first white settlers and appears to be a mystery even to local tribes, said Bainbridge historian Jerry Elfendahl.
“Its origins are unknown to the Suquamish or anyone,” Elfendahl wrote in an essay about the petroglyph.
The petroglyph is grown over with barnacles but it’s periodically cleaned up to reveal what looks to be faces and human figures.
Unless you have a waterfront-dwelling friend on Agate Point, the only way to access the petroglyph is to navigate a steep, often slippery trail from the North Street road end.
A thick rope snakes down the steepest part of the trail, allowing visitors to descend in a manner similar to rappelling.
Then there’s a high rock bulkhead that makes the final part of the journey difficult for kids or the elderly.
Bitsy and the Road Ends Committee have been trying for years to improve the trail, install stairs and fix the drainage to make the trail less mucky.
The committee has found an ally in the Bainbridge park district. Ostenson said park officials have offered to improve the trail and drainage as long as the proper permits are obtained from the city, which controls all public right-of-ways, including the city’s more than 70 road ends.
If you’ve been following the saga of island road ends, you’ll recall that the issue of permits is particularly vexing for road end advocates.
Last year, the cash-strapped city decided to charge the Road Ends Committee permit fees to clear brush, install stairs or make other improvements.
Having to pony up the money for permits might be surmountable if the city funded the committee – but funding was taken away nearly three years ago.
And there’s another catch: the city can’t seem to decide how much the permits will cost.
“The city won’t determine (the cost) until an application is filed. But we can’t file an application until we have the money for the permit,” Road Ends Committee member Vince Larson said last year. “It’s a Catch-22.”
The committee’s members sometimes dip into their own pockets to carry out projects, but Ostenson estimates permit fees could top $1,500 for a stairwell project. That’s too much for the committee’s members.
Until the city designates funding for the committee and the planned improvements are carried out, visitors to the petroglyph will have to put on some hiking boots and keep a firm grip on the rappelling rope.
To get to the North Street from Highway 305, head up Agatewood Road, take a right on Dolphin Drive and follow it until you get to the entrance to Bloedel Reserve. Take a left and go north on Agate Point Road until you see North Street. Take a right and park along the road. There is no public parking area. A blue ‘Shore Access’ sign marks the trail head. Once on the beach, the petroglyph rock will be about 170 paces to the left.