Welcome to the Kitsap Peninsula, home of Kitsap County. Named for Chief Kitsap of the Suquamish Tribe, the county was formed out from parts of Washington state’s King and Jefferson counties in 1857. The region connects to the eastern shore of Puget Sound by Washington State Ferries, which run from Bremerton and Bainbridge Island to downtown Seattle. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge links the county to Tacoma to the south, and the Hood Canal Bridge connects the peninsula’s northeastern shore to the larger Olympic Peninsula.
Kitsap County, with an estimated population of 264,811 in July 2016, is home to the city of Port Orchard, the county seat, population 13,945. Bremerton is the county’s largest city, with a population of 40,675. Other cities in the county include Bainbridge Island, Poulsbo and Kingston and the census-designated place of Silverdale.
The U.S. Navy is the largest employer in the region, and Naval Base Kitsap, which is also home to Naval Hospital Bremerton, is the third-largest naval base in the United States.
The county is rich in cultural attractions as well as modern amenities. With more than 250 miles of saltwater shoreline, the region’s network of waterfront nooks offers many peaceful, natural settings. Outdoor activities abound, among them fishing, golfing, camping, boating, cycling and more. The county is also home to many historic military sites, including museums and memorials.
There is also shopping, dining and nightlife opportunities to explore: Annual events and festivals celebrate everything from music by the bay to antique aircraft fly-ins to brew fests to lavender fields and waterways. Whatever the attractions, they showcase the beauty and vibrancy of Kitsap County.
The first residents of the Kitsap Peninsula were Suquamish, Native Americans named after their principal village, Suqua, opposite the north end of Bainbridge Island. They caught salmon, the centerpiece of their economy and culture from the spring to the fall as the fish swam upstream to spawn. Dried salmon, deer, roots and berries provided food during the winter.
Contact with Europeans in the 1780s brought several epidemics that slashed the native populations from thousands to hundreds. British Capt. George Vancouver arrived at Puget Sound in 1792 during his survey of every inlet and outlet on the West Coast, all the way north to Alaska. It was Vancouver who named several features in Kitsap County, including Port Orchard, Port Gamble, Restoration Point and Hood Canal. In 1841, U.S. Navy Lt. Charles Wilkes and the U.S. Exploring Expedition performed a more detailed survey and left more names including Bainbridge Island, Port Blakely, Agate Point, Apple Tree Point and Port Madison.
The Donation Land Claim Act of 1850 granted 320 acres of land (640 acres to a married couple) to anyone for free if the land was improved and occupied for five years, drawing settlers to the region. In 1855, Washington Territorial Gov. Isaac Stevens persuaded the native tribes to sign the Point No Point and Point Elliott treaties, in which they ceded their lands to the U.S. in exchange for reservations and fishing and hunting rights. The Suquamish’s Port Madison Reservation was 7,811 acres. In 1886, the U.S. government allotted specific plots of land to individual tribal members. As the members sold their allotments to non-natives, more than half the reservation passed out of tribal hands.
When Washington Territory organized in 1853, the Kitsap Peninsula was a part of two counties, King to the east and Jefferson to the west. Of King County’s 238 voters at that time, 139 were living on the Kitsap Peninsula, including Bainbridge Island. Local representatives introduced bills to create a new county named after Lt. William Slaughter. Slaughter County was born Jan. 16, 1857, but that same year, popular vote changed the name to Kitsap.
By the 1860s, timber was a big business, and Kitsap County was the richest county per capita in the United States with five of the largest sawmills in almost constant production. Logging was a profitable venture for many pioneers to the area. The waters of Puget Sound played a key role as timber and lumber shipped around the world. Puget Sound made it easy for timber to be felled and rolled downhill toward the water. However, financial hardship arose in the 1870s as the lumber industry faced a series of economic depressions, overabundance being a major cause.
In the 1880s, the United States government chose Port Orchard as the site of a repair facility to help support naval operations in the Pacific Ocean; this began a significant contribution to the county’s permanent economy. The Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at Bremerton (1891) was followed by the torpedo-testing station at Keyport (1914), the refueling station at Manchester (1938), the large nuclear submarine base at Bangor (1977) on Hood Canal, as well as many smaller supporting facilities.
Thousands of civilian and military personnel moved to the county, particularly during World War II. The Navy presence continued through the Korean and Vietnam conflicts and the Cold War, and in 2005 the shipyard became the county’s largest employer, accounting for 54 percent of the economy.
Until World War II, Kitsap County was largely agricultural except for the shipyard and related military activities. Hotels and summer homes served vacationers from Seattle and Tacoma. The Mosquito Fleet of steamers serviced Puget Sound communities and tied Kitsap County to the rest of the state from the 1850s to the 1930s. In the 1930s automobile-carrying diesel ships from San Francisco replaced them, until 1951 when the state of Washington bought the commercial Black Ball Line and took over operation of the ferry system.
In 1942, the U.S. government ordered the removal of persons of Japanese descent, including American citizens, from the U.S. West Coast including 278 residents of Bainbridge Island, most of whom were agricultural workers. After the war, most of the internees returned to the island.
As the economy of Western Washington expanded in the second half of the 20th century, Bainbridge Island became a bedroom community for greater Seattle. Fast and dependable ferry service from Winslow and the Agate Pass bridge made the strawberry farms and second-growth forest prime real estate.
Today, 10 percent of the island population works off island and island residents bring home median incomes half again higher than the rest of the county. In the Bremerton area, the construction of a call center by Nextel Communications in 2001 brought 500 private-sector jobs. It was a feather in the cap of the Kitsap Economic Regional Development Council, which seeks to diversify the local economy.
State of Washington
Division of Emergency Management
The Washington Emergency Management Division plans for and responds to natural and human-made disasters. Visit its website for a severe weather awareness guide and other preparedness information.
The Kitsap County Office of Emergency Management is responsible for planning and coordinating actions for disaster preparation, response and recovery. The office works with local government, cities, state and federal agencies and volunteer organizations to provide resources and expertise in four primary areas: preparedness, response, recovery and mitigation. Visit its website for information including emergency plans, instructional videos, volunteer opportunities and more.
City of Bremerton
Bremerton develops and enhances the city’s disaster preparedness and recovery plans primarily through its fire department. Visit the department’s website at www.ci.bremerton.wa.us/235/Factsheets for a full list of guides to help you with earthquake safety, power outages, wildfire season, pet preparedness and more.
WEATHER AND CLIMATE
Kitsap County enjoys warm, dry summers and wet semi-mild winters. In Bremerton, the warmest month is August, with an average high of 75 degrees and an average low of 53 degrees. The coldest month is December, with an average high of 45 degrees and an average low of 35 degrees. Precipitation is heavy in the Mediterranean climate. Most precipitation falls in the winter months, and average yearly rainfall is about 52 inches.
Every second counts in a disaster so planning and preparation can be lifesavers.
The Washington state Emergency Management Division provides residents, communities, public safety professionals, businesses and schools with invaluable information and resources for dealing with calamities, from fires to earthquakes, hazardous waste and terrorism, to name just a few. Go to the website, https://mil.wa.gov/emergency-management-division, and click on “Preparedness” to learn how to confront specific emergencies, create an emergency plan and emergency kit, save your pet and make necessary adaptations for the elderly and those with special needs.
Another great resource for natural disaster and severe weather information is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at www.cdc.gov/disasters. Here you can find information on how to prepare for various weather emergencies.
The following are considered significant hazards in Washington state.
Washington, especially the Puget Sound basin, has a history of frequent earthquakes. More than 1,000 earthquakes occur in the state each year, and a dozen or more are strong enough for people to feel the ground shaking. Besides the damage from the shaking, earthquakes can trigger landslides, surface fault ruptures and liquefaction, all of which can cause injury or property damage. Contact your local city or county government for information on how to be prepared where you live. For more information, go to www.kitsapdem.org/are-you-ready.aspx.
Floods are the most common natural disaster in the United States. Even beyond coastal regions, flash floods, inland flooding and seasonal storms affect all parts of the country, damaging homes and businesses. Underestimating the force and power of water is dangerous.
During a flood watch or warning, gather your emergency supplies and stay tuned to local radio or TV stations for further weather information. If you are outdoors during a rainstorm, seek higher ground. Avoid walking through any floodwaters — even water 6 inches deep can sweep you off your feet. If you are driving, avoid flooded areas. The majority of deaths in floods occur when people drive through flooded areas. Roads concealed by water may not be intact. Water only a foot deep can displace a vehicle. If your vehicle stalls, leave it immediately and seek higher ground. Rapidly rising water can engulf a vehicle and sweep it away.
For more on protecting yourself from flooding in Kitsap County, go to www.kitsapdem.org/pdfs/preparedness/floodreadiness.pdf for an informational fact sheet.
While more likely at certain times of the year, storms can happen anytime. A severe thunderstorm can knock out power; bring high winds, lightning, flash floods and hail; and spin into a twister in seconds. Pay attention to storm warnings. Remember the rule: “When thunder roars, head indoors.” The National Weather Service recommends following the 30/30 rule: People should seek shelter if the “flash-to-bang” delay — length of time in seconds from the sight of the lightning flash to the arrival of its subsequent thunder — is 30 seconds or less, and remain under cover for 30 minutes after the final thunderclap.
For more information, visit the National Weather Service’s website at www.lightningsafety.noaa.gov.
Humans cause the majority of wildfires. Causes include arson, recreational fires that get out of control, negligently discarded cigarettes and debris burning. Natural causes like lightning can also cause a fire.
If your home is in an area prone to wildfires, you can mitigate your risk. Have an evacuation plan and maintain a defensible area that is free of anything that will burn, such as wood piles, dried leaves, newspapers and other brush.
Even if your home is not in the vicinity of a wildfire, the smoke and ash produced by fires can create air quality issues for hundreds of miles. Pay attention to local air quality reports following a fire in your area.
Fires are unpredictable and impossible to forecast, so preparation is of particular importance. Visit www.kitsapdem.org/library.aspx for multiple fact sheets on wildfire preparedness.