The Fallout Shelters of The Mortar Pits

Old decommissioned forts are full of history. Perfect for learning about the less than stellar parts of American history, when the great lie of fallout shelters was pressed onto citizens by The Civil Defense – that they would save you because nuclear war was going to be a common event. Or something. The National Park service has some good articles on it. (And for the history buffs, across the Salish Sea, out at Fort Worden was a NIKE site, that was where they were looking for missiles coming in hot to the Puget Sound in the 60’s)

I came of age in the cold war, as it was all falling apart in Eastern Europe.

To my younger children, it’s something that doesn’t make much sense to them. “So…we were supposed to go live/shelter in these nasty tunnels that smell like pee, and have white stuff oozing out of the ceiling?” “Sure…ok Mom” Nothing like having Gen Z kids raised by a sarcastic Gen X. They learned it from me. But it’s a great way to teach history and how the masses are lulled. And yeah, it is hiking. So call it walking history. Lets hope they take their kids on a hiking tour of non decomposing face masks of their youth in 20 years…..”Kids, we were told if you wore them you’d be safe!” looking down into a pile of garbage on a beach, that will still be killing animals.

As people drive into Fort Casey State Park in central Whidbey Island, they drive above the mortar pits, otherwise known as Battery Schenck and Battery Seymour. There are 4 slots into these batteries. From above you see 3 well groomed tops, as you drive by. These date back a long time ago, and were heavily used in the years leading up to WWI. Photos are dated around 1910 showing the mortar pits being used.

To access them, park at the large picnic area (it’s the first right turn after you enter the park – what is marked “parking lot” above). It has ample parking and flush toilets. Walk back down the road till you see a trail sign of hikers. This very straight forward trail shoots down quickly (it is not an accessible trail and is very steep, but short). It connects to the old road that serviced the batteries. You can also come in via the campground, the road/trail comes in on a bend on the road, this is a more accessible entry.

First part of the trail.

Second half.

As the trail connects to the road/trail.

Deer out eating.

This section of the batteries is oddly open, when a large section of the fort has developed doors in recent years, and been locked down. The front section of the fort, above the Salish Sea, now only has a certain amount of open rooms, and these have been restored with lighting – and interpretive displays. But back here, in the mortar pits, it’s time standing still.

There are 4 of the green buildings, that sit in front of each battery section. One is open if one wanted to walk in. We spotted a bird nest. Starlings love these old areas. It’s quiet.

The local citizens are typical Whidbey Island deer. On the small side, and not scared of you. Mama and baby having a good meal.

There is one of these kept open and trimmed back. The officers would have been working up here. Makes you think of an old temple, but what do I know. It is located above in the middle section of the batteries, on the sat photo up above, you can see the path in the green.

Looking down into one of the batteries.

Each of the batteries looks like this when you walk up. Some have old doors, long shut and rusting, some are fully open. You can walk in all 4 however. The old light fixtures keep watch outside.

As you enter the first tunnel, an old fallout shelter symbol shows barely through.

On the other side of the tunnel.

Walker disappearing into the tunnel. It’s cold, slightly damp and questionable in smell there.

Looking into a tunnel entrance.

In one of the tunnels, I entered to see a nearly perfect painting still there.

There’s a lot of history in the mortar pits. It’s a quiet corner of the park, moldering into the forest.

The other fallout shelter sites there are it seems locked up now.

I’ve been to this one, in another battery at the fort, it has new metal doors, locked up and they bricked in the windows. I was in this one a few years ago when it was open.

There are more, but sometimes they are open, but other times, they are not. It seems just luck of the draw. If one wants to see it though, maybe do it sooner than later, before they continue to disappear to public access.


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