An Unbroken Historical Record: Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve
Administrative History
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Chapter One:

In the twentieth century, Americans have turned increasingly to government to preserve their cultural heritage and their remaining open spaces. But funding for preservation of natural and cultural resources has grown scarce. An innovative solution to this dilemma has developed out of necessity: the partnership park, a cooperative strategy that brings together private and public resources at the local, state and federal level. At a recent conference on partnerships in parks and preservation, Governor Mario Cuomo of New York enthusiastically supported the partnership approach and encouraged the preservation of cultural resources in all forms:

The mosaic of places and things that constitutes our identity is forever expanding: 18th-Century farmsteads, 19th-Century battlefields, 20th-Century downtowns, canals, factory complexes, grand theaters, roadside diners, even hydroelectric plants. In twenty years, our definition of historic treasure will be expanded by yet another generation. Who can guess which of our creations our children and grandchildren will covet? [1]

Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, a partnership park in central Whidbey Island, encompasses one of the earliest American settlements in the Puget Sound of Washington State.* What began in the early 1970s as a movement to prevent the development of a place called Ebey's Prairie grew into an opportunity to preserve and celebrate a larger cultural landscape. In 1978, Congress established the reserve in order to "preserve and protect a rural community which provides an unbroken historical record from nineteenth century exploration and settlement in [the] Puget Sound to the present time." It commemorates four historical eras: the first explorations of the Puget Sound by Captain George Vancouver in 1792; the settlement of Whidbey Island by Colonel Isaac Neff Ebey, a figure important in the development of Washington Territory; the rapid settlement of Whidbey Island in and after the years of the Donation Land Claim Act (1850-1855); and the growth since 1883 of the historic town of Coupeville.

*Ebey's landing National Historical Reserve is usually referred to simply as "Ebey's Landing." However, Ebey's Landing is also the name of a beach within the reserve. In order to avoid confusing the reader, this report uses "the reserve" or the National Park Service acronym "EBLA."

The reserve represents a new generation of national park system units that are forming as the National Park Service expands into cultural and historical landscape management. [2] Robert Melnick, a pioneer in the field of cultural landscape preservation, management. Robert Melnick, a pioneer in the field of cultural landscape preservation, has defined cultural landscapes as

. . . areas (which) clearly represent or reflect the patterns of settlement or use of the landscape, as well as the continuum and evolution of cultural attitudes, norms, and values towards the land. . . . [T]hese areas . . . are formed, for the most part, of the same fabric and materials which make up natural areas. . . . Cultural landscapes are also shaped somewhat by ecological pressures and events beyond the control of human managers. However, they exhibit one important difference from natural landscapes: cultural landscapes visibly portray man's lasting impact on the land, in a variety of forms. [3]

Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve is more than an assemblage of parts. Just as a national park is part of a larger ecosystem, Ebey's Prairie, the heart of the reserve, exists within an ecological, historical, cultural, and economic matrix. [4] The reserve is more than a location; it is context, and it is this context that nurtures a sense of place among Pacific Northwesterners.

The mission of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve is unlike that of traditional National Park Service areas. Within the reserve lives an evolving community of relatively new inhabitants as well as descendants of the original settlers, and therefore it cannot entirely be frozen in time, as conventional NPS sites often are. Almost ninety percent of the land is privately owned, and the rest is a combination of local, state and federal ownerships. The National Park Service has purchased little land within the reserve, but rather has acquired scenic or conservation easements (that is, an interest in the land that precludes certain developments) on farms and other open spaces. The reserve has been an entirely voluntary endeavor; sales of such conservation easements are on a willing-seller/willing-buyer basis. This has been key to the reserve's success in the community. However, the fact that not all lands have easements and that some development remains a possibility within the reserve can be puzzling to people accustomed to traditional national parks and monuments.

Map 2. Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve.

Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve is the product of a partnership between the town of Coupeville, Island County, the state of Washington, and the National Park Service. It is the first National Park Service unit in the nation to be managed by a trust board; unlike traditional national parks, the "superintendent" of the reserve is a composite of nine individuals, representing the four governmental partners. Because of the non-traditional organization of the reserve, the partners have all learned and adapted over time to a new style of management. Cooperation and innovation have been crucial elements of the process.

This administrative history provides a general overview of the important issues, events, and management policies in the reserve's history. It discusses the movement to preserve Ebey's Prairie, resulting in the establishment of the reserve, and how the area has been administered since its creation. As the first of its kind in the national park system, Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve is a model, illustrating positive and negative aspects of the reserve idea. This document will try to explain why certain decisions were reached, and how effective or successful they have been. The primary question that it attempts to address is: Is the reserve concept working, and has Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve accomplished what its founders intended? Because the reserve is the product of the efforts and creativity of many people, some of whom kept no written records, this report relies on a large number of interviews with persons important in reserve history. It is fitting that so much of this administrative history developed out of conversations, because communication has been a foundation of the reserve.

The legislation of the reserve refers to an "unbroken historical record" of settlement in central Whidbey Island "to the present time." It honors the present as well as the past, continuity as well as change. The question local planners often pose is: "Can we maintain [the] historic character of our community while accommodating the growth that's necessary to maintain our community services?" [5] The trust board of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve must likewise balance opposing forces, recognizing the community's need to adapt to changing circumstances yet safeguard the character and experience of place. Partnership parks everywhere face such questions. It is a challenge that will continue far into the future.

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Last Updated: 27-May-2000