After decades of waiting and nearly three years of construction, San Juan Island National Historical Park has announced when the long-awaited American Camp Visitor Center, with exhibits created in collaboration with the park-associated Indigenous community, will open to the public. 

Located off the shore of northwest Washington state, the park is located on San Juan Island, one of the 172 named islands and reefs that make up the San Juan Islands archipelago between Puget Sound and Canada's Vancouver Island. 

Comprised of 2,141 acres of "woodland, prairie and saltwater shoreline," the park is spread between two separate encampment sites.  Those are the American Camp and the English Camp, the respective spots from where the two countries jointly occupied the island. 

In its announcement of opening dates for the 2022 season, the park stated the English Camp Visitor Center will open starting May 28 while the American Camp Visitor Center, which has been closed since 2019, will reveal the results of its multimillion-dollar construction project over the July 4 holiday weekend. 

American Camp in San Juan island Historical Park, Washington State, USA
A white picket fence surrounds an historic building in San Juan Island National Historical Park, where US forces shared the island with British troops.  (© Photo by Nik Wheeler/ Corbis via Getty Images

What will the American Camp Visitor Center entail?

Established in 1966, the San Juan Island National Historic Park put in a double-wide trailer to serve as a visitor center on the site of American Camp in 1977. The park intended to use that facility for just 3 years until something more permanent could be built.

But 42 years passed, and the project kept being delayed due to funding. Finally, in 2019, the park was able to secure funding and a plan for the construction of a new facility. 

First time guide to the San Juan Islands

Created in collaboration with the Tribes of the San Juan Islands, the new visitor center at the American Camp will host state-of-the-art exhibits that will pay “tribute to the multiple histories of San Juan Island and their meaning for different individuals and groups and the unique environment of our island.”

The visitor center opening comes at a time when the park has seen startling growth in popularity having welcomed 630,000 visitors in 2021 compared to just over 274,000 in 2009. 

Commemoration of the end of the ‘Pig War’

The park will also host events to commemorate 150 years since the end of the “Pig War,” a peaceful resolution of the border dispute on the island between the United States and Great Britain where the death of a pig nearly ignited a war. 

In 1859, the two countries nearly went to war over possession of the island, which was desirable for its temperate climate and rich soil. 

For 12 years, the two sides jointly occupied the island at their respective camps until 1872 when the area was ruled to be part of the United States and the Royal Marines withdrew. 

To commemorate the end of a “war” where the only casualty was a pig, the park is planning a series of events looking into how the Pig War impacted various communities from Hawaiian immigrants to the Indigenous Coast Salish people who called it home, to homesteading families. 

The park said the highlight will be the return of its popular multi-day living history over the weekend of August 4 to 7 at the English Camp.

In addition to the commemorative events, it will host its regular summer program which includes guided walks, historical tours, living history, and recurring Monday night contra dancing.

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