Staff photo/Hayley Day
                                Attendees learned about the creation of a new American Camp visitors center at the San Juan Island National Historical Park booth at the county fair through Aug. 18.

Staff photo/Hayley Day Attendees learned about the creation of a new American Camp visitors center at the San Juan Island National Historical Park booth at the county fair through Aug. 18.

San Juan Island National Historical Park makeover includes new visitors center, campsite, programs | Update

The island has a new location to listen to live performances and view art exhibitions.

It’s not a music venue or museum, but the San Juan Island National Historical Park sites.

Staff have created new ways to connect people to the parks’ two sites at American Camp and English Camp, beyond typical options like hiking, as well as updated current park fixtures such as a campsite and are in the process of creating a new visitors center.

“The idea is how can we create nonconventional programming in the parks that give local residents, especially, different opportunities to connect and relax in the park,” said Elexis Fredy, park superintendent.

New programs include:

• Music at the Bay at English Camp, where musicians performed on Saturdays through June. The program will continue next year.

• A contemporary art exhibition that tentatively runs through Sept. 30 at American Camp and English Camp called “Becoming American.” The exhibition is produced by the Seattle-based nonprofit cefalonia.

Geological hikes up Young Hill near English Camp and Mount Finlayson near American Camp, from 9-11 a.m., Saturdays through Sept. 1, and 3:30-5 p.m., Sundays through Sept. 2.

“There will always be new people coming out to the San Juan Islands,” said Fredy. “We have to keep exploring new topics and finding a variety of things that might intrigue [visitors] to enrich them to the greatest extent possible.”

Brandon Cadwell, chief of visitor and youth engagement for the park, explained that art and music are longstanding park traditions, including concerts held at English Camp by British soldiers and artists who helped illustrate the beauty of America’s countryside.

“The national parks likely would not exist without the work of early artists to convey the wild landscapes of the west,” he said. “We aim to offer contemporary takes on the stories and resources within the park for individuals to craft art after.”

Other new additions at the park include an English Camp group campsite off of West Valley Road. The campsite was first conceptualized around 2010, said Fredy, and is used as an outdoor classroom for up to 60 youth from educational organizations like the Seattle YMCA.

Construction for a new visitors center at American Camp is also in the works. The current center, explained Fredy, is a double-wide trailer and was built as a temporary site in 1979. The multimillion-dollar project is scheduled to break ground in fall 2019 and continue through 2020. Preliminary designs show the completed building as 2,200 square feet, with 600 square feet dedicated to exhibit space, including information on Coast Salish tribes.

The project will also move the road to the visitors center farther west to create a safer entrance, which is currently located on a curve, as well as repave the parking lot to add more spaces.

An environmental assessment that outlines the project will be available around the end of August. The public can comment on that report when it is published at www.nps.gov/sajh/index.htm, as well as at community outreach events made by staff.

“We want this to be something the community is proud of,” said Fredy.