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10 Fun Ways To Give Back On Your Family Vacation

Learning and volunteering with your kids helps you live like locals. Discover these 10 ways to give back to island communities during your visit! 

Orcas were declared endangered in 2005, and since then, the Southern Resident orcas have struggled to maintain their numbers. Even with the birth of 9 orca calves in 2014-2015, the three pods still only have 78 members. Through the Whale Museum, you can Adopt an Orca—and get adopted yourself into the family of other orca lovers—helping support the stewardship and conservation efforts to save the precious Southern Residents.

To learn more about the Adopt-an-Orca program, or before you go out on a whale watch boat, a visit to Friday Harbor’s Whale Museum is essential. Wonder at several real skeletons of cetaceans—whales, dolphins, porpoises—that let us look inside the world of these magnificent creatures. One of the skeletons is Sooke (L-112), a young orca that died and washed up on Long Beach on the Washington Coast in 2012. A time-lapse video shares the preparation of the bones through images and artifacts from the process, letting you and your kids see behind the scenes at the museum.

Have you ever wandered a pristine beach to find you are passing a beer can here, and a cigarette butt there? You think—I should pick those up—but then you’d be hauling an armful of garbage along with you? Once a year at the The Great Islands Clean-up,  the Earth Day Beach Cleanup on Henry Island, in Moran State Park on Orcas and other beaches and parks, you get a chance to do your part and pick it up! Check out our Voluntourism page for updates on these events.

Grab your camera and notepad and spend a spring day in the San Juan Islands National Historical Park as a part of a team working on identifying as many plants, animals and insects as possible. Each year at the National Parks BioBlitz, scientists of all sorts work to create a taxonomy, or record of what lives in the park. Each year, there is a different focus, from amphibians to pollinators to various types of plants, flowers, trees and more.

Standing on the shores of Buck Bay on Orcas Island, you can look out over the oyster and clam beds and out over the Salish Sea, shuck an oyster fresh from the bay, and savor a sweet, briny morsel that tastes like the sea. These waters are constantly threatened by climate change that is warming the water, pollution, erosion and other factors. Oysters, like other bivalves, filter the water and help remove pollution, heavy metals and more.  Supporting sea farms such as Buck Bay Shellfish Farm, Westcott Bay Shellfish Company on San Juan Island, and Jones Family Farms Sweetwater Shellfish Farm on Lopez is a way to support clean water, and the interaction of our food system with the natural world. Plus … delicious!

At the Saturday farmers market on  Orcas Island, Lopez Island and San Juan Island, you can find everything you need for your family brunches and barbecues, from farm-fresh eggs and island-raised bacon, to fresh oysters, lamb chops, pork ribs, fruits and vegetables and fresh flowers. Shopping this way helps save food miles (the fuel that is spent bringing outside food to the consumer), and helps support our precious island farms and keep the farmers in business. Plus, just-picked produce, hormone free milk and cheese and humanely raised meats taste more delicious and nourish the body and soul.

Stewardship of natural places is so important, and saving our agricultural places is equally important, especially on an island, where much of a food system is shipped in. There is a long, fascinating history of agriculture in the islands, from the early native people who moved around the islands seasonally to harvest plants such as camas, cattail, salal berries and many more, as well as salmon and other seafoods.

Island natives built settlements and established farming and fishing practices. When European settlers came, they created ranches, farms and orchards that grew into a successful agricultural economy. Fruit growers shipped thousands of tons of fruit to the mainland each year, until irrigation in Eastern Washington took that business over the Cascades. But there is a renaissance happening in farming, with more young farmers growing food, producing artisan products and creating a vibrant community of food and farm lovers. Find an island farm to visit.

Taking your bicycle on the ferry means one less car on the road, more fresh air and exercise for you and your family, and a more intimate experience with the sea spray, wind, trees, birds and scents of the islands. One day a year, the Tour de Lopez road rally celebrates the landscape of Lopez Island, with its stunning vistas and rolling hills. Three different routes—5, 12, 18 & 31 miles—take riders of all levels past some of Lopez’ most beautiful views, ending with a fresh, locally grown lunch, music and a beer garden.

One of the best things about a visit to the San Juans is hiking through the stunning landscape, from rolling bluffs covered with moss, to pebbled beaches to deep, quiet forests. If we all live by the “Pack it in, Pack it out” rule, and truly Leave No Trace, the natural places on the islands will be beautiful and pristine for your visit next year and for generations to come.

Volunteer Vacations In The San Juan Islands

Have fun with family or friends while helping out on an island beach cleanup, trail maintenance day, or other Earth Day events!

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Contact Us:
San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau
1-888-468-3701 | (360) 378-9551
P.O. Box 1330, Friday Harbor, Washington 98250
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