Naval Magazine Indian Island: Boundaries matter

Trails not public, personnel down from peak

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While Naval Magazine Indian Island appreciates the attention of the surrounding community, it wants to ensure that community has an accurate understanding of the installation and its surrounding amenities.

In addition to the Department of Defense’s largest ordnance site on the West Coast, the 2,700-acre island hosts a wealth of cultural and natural resources, including several Native American archeological sites, historical pioneer homestead sites and WWII-era buildings.

But Julianne Stanford, environmental public affairs specialist for Navy Region Northwest, and public affairs officer for Naval Magazine Indian Island, wants the public to understand that its public-accessible trails are a part of Indian Island County Park, rather than allowing them to believe the whole island is open for hiking.

Responding to a recent article in The Leader’s “Getaway Guide,” Stanford estimated there probably haven’t been more than 200 residents on the island since World War II, when personnel lived in barracks here.

And only part of the island is a hiking mecca.

“There are no trails on the installation that are open to the public, with the exception of when the base holds its annual Deer Run 5k each summer,” Stanford said, adding that this year’s Deer Run is scheduled for July 27.

While previous reports might have led to the mistaken belief that there is a large public trail system sprawling across the island, all along the coast, the public trails are accessible only from the small portion of land the county leases from the Navy for Indian Island County Park.

“Without that caveat, it could open up the installation to unwanted security risks from curious hikers,” Stanford said.

Stanford confirmed the island is home to a wide diversity of wildlife species, including 10 established bald eagle nesting sites, several hundred deer, coyotes, otters and an occasional cougar.

“Although Indian Island is technically an unincorporated community, I wouldn’t say that’s an accurate way to characterize the installation,” said “There are no military or civilian residents who permanently live here, aside from first responders who always stay overnight when they’re on shift.”

“Those barracks have long since been uninhabited, and all of the installation’s remaining military housing was torn down more than a decade ago,” Stanford said. “At the height of the war, more than 350 military personnel and 200 civilians worked on the island to load vessels seven days a week, sometimes loading two ships a day.”

Stanford explained that when work levels dropped off after the end of the Korean War, the island was placed in a reduced operating status in 1959.

But with the construction of the Trident Submarine Base at Bangor, the conventional ammunition mission shifted back to Indian Island, with completion of a new ammunition wharf in 1978.

“Today, approximately 160 civilian and military personnel work on the island,” Stanford said.

Those current personnel represent a continuation of local service that began when the federal government purchased the land on Indian Island in 1939 and established Naval Magazine Indian Island and Net Depot on May 10, 1941, seven months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7.

“During WWII, Indian Island’s personnel worked around the clock to load Navy ships with munitions, assemble mines and manufacture the giant anti-submarine nets that protected Puget Sound waterways from penetration by enemy vessels,” Stanford said.

Today, Naval Magazine Indian Island is the U.S. Navy’s only deep-water ammunition port on the West Coast, with a 1,600-foot pier that can handle the largest Navy and commercial vessels afloat.

The installation is also the Department of Defense’s largest ordnance storage site on the West Coast, with more than 100 magazines that store conventional munitions, ranging from small arms ammunition to aircraft ordnance to ship-launched missiles.

Stanford reported that an average of 50 vessels stop at the island each year, including aircraft carriers, guided-missile destroyers and submarines, ammo ships, U.S. Coast Guard patrol boats, Military Sealift Command vessels, and commercial barges and container ships.

“The island is home to the Department of Defense’s largest container crane, nicknamed ‘Big Blue’ for the pastel blue coat of paint on its exterior, which makes it a visible structure for miles around the installation,” Stanford said. “The self-sustained diesel/electric-powered rail crane is capable of lifting up to 89,000 pounds.”

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