The Right Of People To Walk The Island’s Shorelines



Friends of Guemes Island Shorelines (FOGIS) was created in 2020 to secure the right of people to walk on the island’s shorelines. The right has recently been challenged, sometimes confrontationally and physically, by one shoreline owner in particular, accosting people seeking the enjoyment of quiet walks along the beach.

For as long as people have lived in this part of the world, the shorelines have been a central part of the shared community experience. For more than 130 years, Washington State law has not been clear on the rights of the public to enjoy the shorelines and their relationship to privately owned tidelands and the courts have never definitively ruled on this matter. Over the past several months, a number of long-term island residents and occasional visitors have been made to feel unwelcome and unsafe doing what they have done for decades – enjoying quiet, peaceful strolls along the tidelands of Guemes Island.  FOGIS organized itself to address this issue, and to work to ensure that walking on our region’s pristine tidelands below the ordinary high water line, without walking on uplands, remains accessible to everyone.

Washington state is the only Pacific state that does not explicitly protect the right of citizens to walk beaches below the Ordinary High-Water Mark. Public walking below the Ordinary High- Water Mark has been discussed in our State. (See this legal discussion summary commissioned by the Department of Ecology. See also this related Attorney General's opinion). FOGIS's goal is to clearly obtain confirmation of the public’s right to walk below the Ordinary High-Water Mark (after legally accessing the tideland without trespassing above that Mark).  Left unchallenged, we fear this situation could result in much of our island’s shorelines becoming inaccessible.

We are advocating, through litigation and other activities, for the right of simple beach walking which will allow us to enjoy the extraordinary environment in which we live. Preserving the ability to walk our shorelines to experience the beauty and serenity of this area, while respecting the rights of property owners, is critical to our island.

FOGIS appreciates people’s interest in these matters but does not plan to comment or engage in discussion on social media.  For more information contact Pete Knutson or Bud Ullman.

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