Magazine article Sunset

Kindly Meeting of Land and Sea ... and a New Kind of Park; Ebey's Landing Is a Handy Puget Sound Detour

Magazine article Sunset

Kindly Meeting of Land and Sea ... and a New Kind of Park; Ebey's Landing Is a Handy Puget Sound Detour

Article excerpt

Ebey's Landing 'is a handy Puget Sound detour

It may be the kindliest meeting of land and sea anywhere around Puget Sound. Ebey's Landing, a stunning crescent of beach buttressed by low headlands, yields not to rain-shrouded forest but to sunny prairie instead.

For more than 150 years, Whidbey Island's thin "waistline" has been coveted-first by Skagit Indians who came in dugout canoes to gather prairie roots and berries, then by settlers who saw this rare opening in the forest and knew that they could farm it without having to log it first. The landing has always been a crossroads on the sound. Today it's an easy detour for travelers heading to or from the San Juan Islands or Olympic Peninsula.

Visitors marvel at storm-tossed winter seas, photograph spring wildflowers, picnic on a sunny summer bluff, hike the beaches in fall. And a decade ago, locals rallied when subdivision threatened. Last year, this sweep of coast was dedicated as centerpiece of an innovative new unit in the national park system. Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve protects a diverse "cultural landscape" of coasts and pastures, glacial geology and Indian prehistory, an 1850s seaport village, and military forts.

You can play on the beach, scuba dive, surf-cast for salmon, watch birds, canoe a cove, hike a bluff, or bike a lane.

Inventing a new kind of "park"

Mostly privately owned, Ebey isn't a national park in the traditional sense. But in an era of tight budgets and diminishing wilderness, "this style of management may soon become the vogue," says Charles Odegaard, the Park Service's Northwest regional director. (A similar reserve was established last fall at Idaho's City of Rocks.)

Named for the landing used by homesteader and customs agent Isaac N. Ebey, the reserve was created in 1978. Congress placed it under Park Service jurisdiction but gave little specific direction.

Since condemnation was forbidden, park personnel used persuasion to safeguard open space and preserve scenic vistas. They bought farmers' development rights and created "density bonuses" to help cluster growth. Most important, a ninemember trust board of local citizens and representatives from state and national parks drafted management guidelines.

This innovative protection has already earned Ebey fame among park planners; inquiries have come from Australia, Canada, England, Italy, Nepal, Poland. Real estate agents who once opposed the reserve now praise it to prospective buyers.

New roadside exhibits tell Ebey's story

Ebey's achievement is still little known beyond Puget Sound. But now, more lodging and trails, improved parking at key sites, and new life in old Coupeville are attracting more visitors.

And the reserve's story is more visible. Earlier this year, three roadside exhibits went up to explain the land's ice-age origins and rain-shadow weather, Indian "fire farming" (burning meadows every year to keep trees from growing), and why Haida Indians beheaded Isaac Ebey in 1857. More exhibits are coming, and a free recreation guide is due in June, Ask for it in town shops, or write to Trust Board of Ebey's Landing, Box 774, Coupeville 98239.

Loop drive to a baker's dozen stops

Our tour (about 160 miles round trip from Seattle) leads to 13 stops keyed to the map above. …

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