A love affair with mother nature

Mike James, 62 stands on the perfectly manicured Emel House lawn. Behind him the breathtaking mountain and water panorama says it all.

“You asked me why I’ve stayed here so long. This is it,” he said Monday morning.

James has spent the past 29 of his 32 years as Washington State Park ranger at the aptly named Scenic Beach near Seabeck.

A self-described ground pounder, he has gotten much dirt under his nails as he takes care of the elaborate gardens.

“When you come here you’ve come to a very special place,” James said.

This could have very easily been developed into $10- $15 million homesites,” he said.

The state purchased the original 30 acres, Emel House and 500 feet of beach property for $93,000 in 1963. During the past 40 years, the about 60 acres and 1,000 feet of shoreline has been acquired.

“I don’t think a day goes by without seeing a eagle over there,” he said.

But the landscape isn’t the only thing that has changed.

“People are traveling more with their pets,” James said of one of the differences he has noticed over the years. This past weekend the park hosted a competition and birthday party for a group of Burmese Mountain dogs.

He calls that one of the more “unique situations.”

More wildlife has infiltrated the park over the years due to increased development displacing them James said.

Then there are the animals that people bring in the park.

He remembers one four-legged visitor in particular.

James was brushing stain on something at the park and a goat wandered up and started drinking the stain.

“How do you get a goat under control that’s drinking your paint?”

On a brief tour of the 90-acres of forest land, which features 52 campsites, a group campsite and the picturesque Emel House, James stops the truck to check out a deserted car. Its trunk popped, doors open. He takes another look and chuckles.

“They were part of the wedding,” held Saturday he said.

“I thought they would be long gone by now.”

Reservations for the Northwest nuptial spot begin in November. As many as four weddings a week have been performed at the park James said. This past weekend the couple left the park via float plane, one of the more original departures. Kayak, horse and carriage and limo are the more popular modes of travel.

James joined the park system in 1970 serving for three years at Kopachuck State Park west of Gig Harbor. He transferred to Scenic Beach and has raised his children and now have his grandchildren there to visit.

“It’s Papa’s park to them,” he said.

The only pull to retirement is his 11-year old granddaughter, who is making a name for herself on the figure skating circuit. If she makes the European tour, James plans to accompany her.

But he’ll cross that bridge when he gets to it. For now James is busy closing out the campsites that will host their last batch of campers this weekend.

From the Emel House lawn it is clear how 29 years in Kitsap County’s natural beauty is time well spent.

“If you get tired of looking at this on a daily basis then you’re in the wrong business,” James said. “This is my passion.”

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