Support swells to make San Juan Islands a national monument

FRIDAY HARBOR, Wash. -- Shrouded in fog, stretching out from the northern edge of the Strait of Juan De Fuca lies a treasure of the Northwest: The San Juan Islands.

Four islands make up the main draw in the San Juans, but there are 172 named islands and reefs -- some of them little more than rocks jutting out of the ocean.

One thousand acres of these pieces of land are at the heart of a passionate movement that puts the tranquil San Juan's in the line of sight of Washington D.C. -- being named a national monument.

"This would protect them from development," said Rep. Rick Larsen. "These are lands that aren't developed now and they belong to the us taxpayer we want to protect them from any sort of development that might come in the future."

All it takes is a signature from the President.

There are more than 100 national monuments, but just two are in Washington -- both Mt. St. Helens and the Hanford Reach.

Adding a third is the talk of the town.

"We talked about it, I learned it's an important cause," said student Graham Crawbeck. "So I went and spoke in front of the council and typed up a paper about it."

The county council endorsed the idea. Businesses and locals lined up in support.

But while there is no organized opposition, some islanders worry the designation could change their way of life.

"We know that tourism is the major part of the economy, but at the same time, we don't want to become the destination resort where the locals are part of a petting zoo," said resident Greg Hergel. "We don't want to become someone else's local color for their photographs. There's some real concern it will push it in that direction."

While the land is not being targeted by developers now, supporters worry it will be.

"It may change things, but I like to think it will change things for the positive so that they're protected," said Barbara Marrett with the Visitors Bureau. "What's key to me is that locals are going to have a say in the management plan."

The area that would be covered by the national monument designation includes part of Lopez Island and the iconic Cattle Point Lighthouse.

"Me and my dad, we go down there and we just stand by the lighthouse and the wind is just barreling in and there's all the waves and it's kind of like, it's a magical experience," said Rayna Ellis.

What's the best way to protect that magical experience? To leave it as is, or make it a national monument? The answer could come soon in the form of a signature from President Obama.

He's expected to agree that public lands in the San Juan's are a point of national pride, making the newest monument just a ferry ride away.