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

This story began simply enough, with one family's decision in 1970 to rezone a portion of their farm. Little in the history of Whidbey Island to that point had suggested that a quiet request to the Island County Board of Commissioners would trigger a prolonged dispute among citizens of central Whidbey Island. In fact, the controversy that erupted would require more than a decade to resolve. Once the dust settled, the farm remained intact and the local residents had achieved a unique partnership with the National Park Service and local government. Not surprisingly in a small community whose roots are deeply entwined, some bitter feelings linger. Even within Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, the future state of the landscape is by no means assured.

Environmental Protection vs. Private Property Rights

Isaac Ebey staked his claim in 1850 in a bowl-shaped prairie amid the low hills of central Whidbey Island. The old claim is one mile square and extends inland from the western shore, slanting in a northeasterly direction. The northeast end points toward Coupeville and Penn Cove, the southwestern edge opens onto Ebey's Landing, a beach on Admiralty Inlet. Wooded uplands border its sides on the southeast and northwest, forming the bluffs on either side of Ebey's Landing. On the northwestern ridge overlooking Isaac's land stands his father Jacob's weathered homestead and blockhouse, a few scattered houses, and Sunnyside Cemetery, where the Ebeys and other settlers' families are buried. Standing at a National Park Service wayside installed near the cemetery in 1988, one can gaze across the woodlots and prairies of central Whidbey Island to the Cascade Range spanning the eastern horizon. It is easy to pick out some of the original settlers' structures in the prairie below. To the left sits the old Kineth home, overshadowed by the snowy mass of Mt. Baker in the background. Near the center of the prairie stands the two-story Gould farmhouse, where present owner Bill Smith recently found Isaac Ebey's Donation Land Claim patent concealed behind a plaster wall. To the far right stands the old ferry house overlooking the landing. Several miles across the water lie Port Townsend and the Olympic Peninsula; in the distance, the jagged Olympic peaks frame the western horizon.

The National Park Service has placed a photograph at this wayside, taken at the turn of the century, which duplicates the panoramic view of the prairie. It is evidence that here endures a landscape little changed in 140 years.

After Isaac Ebey's death, his sons Eason and Ellison divided his land straight up from the beach, allowing each man a long, rectangular plot with a half mile of beachfront. Ellison's (southeastern) half today is divided among the Shermans, Burton Engle, and Robert Pratt. [1] Eason sold his (northwestern) half to John Gould in 1880. In 1917, Harry Smith bought Gould's 320-acre estate, which his two sons, Knight and George, inherited. It is with the Smith brothers that the evolution of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve really begins.

Throughout the 1960s, George and Knight, along with their wives Marion and Roberta, bred cattle and horses on their farm, and planted diversified crops. By the late 1960s the brothers had come to believe that farming was an unprofitable enterprise; they also realized that they were getting older and would not continue to farm much longer. Aware of the demographic changes occurring around the Puget Sound and of the land's residential potential, the family decided to develop part of their farm. They had no immediate plans to build on the property, but the first step was to get the land rezoned. In June 1968, the Smith brothers requested that the Board of Island County Commissioners reclassify 82 acres of their land along the northwest boundary from agricultural to rural residential. The Commissioners complied. In March 1970, the brothers requested that an additional 124 acres be rezoned along the beach. But, unlike the usual zoning request on Whidbey Island, this one attracted notice. Ebey's Prairie was not an ordinary piece of ground; it was, some said, one of the most spectacular spots on the island, and in the entire Puget Sound region. [2]

Al Sherman, whose dairy farm abutted the Smith property, was among the first to question the new development and its impact on the prairie. A local representative on the County Planning Commission, Sherman alerted his neighbor, artist Albert Heath, to the proposed land use change. Albert Heath lived in a house atop the northwestern ridge. He had moved to Whidbey Island in 1947, drawn, he said, to the beauty of Ebey's Prairie. The old ferry house, owned at the time by Lena Kohne (Mrs. Frank) Pratt, needed a caretaker, and Heath gladly took the job. As his relationship to Mrs. Pratt and her son Robert deepened, Heath moved across Ebey's Prairie into a Pratt-owned house on the northwest ridge, near Knight and Roberta Smith's home, where he looked after the house and a flock of sheep. In 1965, Mrs. Pratt left to Heath in her will the old Jenne home southeast of the Smith Farm, which he later traded to her son Robert for a 125-acre parcel with 300 feet of waterfront and bluff overlooking Perego's Lake. Although also a friend of the Smiths, Heath was disturbed by the size and density of their proposed development on the open spaces. "That suddenly made me an environmentalist," Heath remarked. Sherman and Heath decided to speak out. [3]

As word got around about the Smith plans, many people grew alarmed at the threat to one of the island's prime open spaces. The Smith farm was halfway between Fort Ebey and Fort Casey state parks. An eight-mile beach hike between the two parks had been immensely popular for years, and teachers from Camp Casey often guided environmental classes there. On the bluffs above the tidelands an unusual cactus grew, as well as golden paintbrush, a plant on the state endangered species list. One of the island's most spectacular views was available to everyone by hiking an old sheep and deer trail that topped the bluff above Ebey's Landing and skirted the rim to the north. A half mile of the shoreline and portions of the bluff and forest were state school lands under the jurisdiction of the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, but most of the bluffs between Fort Casey and Fort Ebey were in private hands, all with the potential to be developed. Although the beach owners--including the Smiths--had permitted public recreation, all of this could change with the proposed development. The public had little access to other beaches on the west side of Whidbey Island, and now it appeared that access to Ebey's Landing could be lost. [4]

Some residents of Island County felt development on Whidbey Island was both necessary and inevitable, and resented efforts to intervene in what they considered to be progress. At the very least, some property owners would argue, no one should tell them what to do with their land. Whidbey News-Times columnist Adele Ferguson, a beachfront landowner herself, argued in print with environmental lawyer and co-author of the pending shoreline management initiative, Roger Leed, insisting that paying taxes on beach property gave owners the right to control the land as they pleased. [5]

Like other rural areas, Island County lacked the kind of zoning and planning that required significant environmental protection. The members of the Island County Board of Commissioners tended to be pro-growth, and planners who attempted to restrict development and land use often found themselves on the outs with the three-man board. The board frequently overturned recommendations by the planning commissioners. Although Coupeville had developed a comprehensive plan in 1970 which sought to protect rural scenery, and Island County had its General Plan of 1964, a challenge to traditional land ownership values could raise powerful emotions. [6]

In March 1970, the county commission held a public hearing regarding the Smith brothers' rezoning request for the beachfront property. The meeting was well-attended, and evenly divided between supporters and opponents of development on Ebey's Prairie. Albert Heath objected from an aesthetic viewpoint, as did Pat Johnston of the Island County Citizens for Better Planning, a group consisting of landowners and "summer people" on the island. [7] Dewey Hoekstra, the president of the county park board, stated his interest in having the state purchase Ebey's Landing through the Inter-Agency for Outdoor Recreation. Nearly everyone at the hearing seemed reluctant to rezone the prairie for residential development, including the Smiths. But considering the diminished agricultural activity on the island and the growth of the population, the Smiths lamented, they "could not live on the scenery." With debts of approximately $50,000 on the farm, Knight and Roberta were especially anxious to begin development. [8]

The Smiths' request won out over public opposition, and the Island County Commissioners rezoned the additional acreage; in April 1970, the commission approved a preliminary plat to develop 48 acres along the northwest ridge. But Knight Smith died suddenly of a heart attack, and the family's building plans lapsed over the summer. Roberta Smith said that her whole world changed with her husband's death. Like her sister-in-law Marion, she worked for the county government in order to supplement her income, but it had not been enough to keep her farm out of debt, and now inheritance taxes compounded her financial problems. [9]

In the fall Roberta, and George and Marion Smith resumed preparations to develop the land. They joined with Robert Hanson, manager of the First Realty Corporation of Seattle, to form the Rocking K-Bar Ranch Corporation. The Smiths felt that First Realty was the answer to their problems. Hanson and Roberta's sons Karl ("Bill") and Steve would oversee a "tasteful" condominium project along the northwest ridge. [10] The new corporation promptly acquired development funds by mortgaging the Smith farm through the Federal Land Bank for $300,000. First Realty intended to purchase the farm from the Rocking K-Bar Ranch Corporation for $560,000 and later recover this outlay by selling the developed property. Hanson immediately paid the Smiths $90,000 out of the mortgage money, which would help them pay off an earlier mortgage and other expenses. In addition, he issued promissory notes for the $470,000 balance. The Smiths also retained one-quarter of the land, which they expected to continue in agriculture. [11]

Unfortunately for the Smiths, First Realty would soon divert its attention to another project at Keystone Spit. In the end this not only postponed the Smith development but depleted the corporation and nearly cost the Smiths their entire farm. The delay gave the local citizens determined to stop development on the prairie time to organize, further exacerbating the Smith widows' financial woes. Ebey's Prairie became a catalyst for several spirited campaigns to preserve historic vistas, open space, and tidelands in central Whidbey Island.

One of the first to form an official committee was Joan McPherson of Coupeville. In the spring of 1971, she hit upon the idea of a national seashore, reasoning that this was the only type of park that fit the area, and even hoping that someday such a park could expand to incorporate other scattered island beaches in the Puget Sound region. She and her husband, Navy Commander Jack McPherson, had only recently moved to the island. Living in the old hotel that they purchased in Coupeville, and lacking even a telephone, the McPhersons formed a committee of two, the Committee to Create a Whidbey Island National Seashore and Historic Site. At the county commission meeting in May 1971, they offered their plan for a national seashore to protect the eight-mile strip of beach from Fort Ebey south to Keystone Spit. "How much beauty and historic value can the county afford to lose?" they posed to the commission, but the commissioners were lukewarm to the proposal. A national seashore might be a good idea, but the county would lose too much in taxes and gain too little in revenue. "You can't run a county on beauty," County Assessor Carl Mecklenberg responded. The McPhersons would also learn that some otherwise supportive residents felt uneasy about the kind of facilities and policing problems that a federal park would invite. But they opened their home for public meetings in June 1971, and started a letter-writing campaign to organizations and congressmen. [12]

Another group of people who lived on or frequented Ebey's Landing had been meeting informally since 1969. Despite changes in membership over the years, this group, which began to call itself the "Friends of Ebey's," would remain tenaciously in pursuit of protection for central Whidbey Island's open spaces. Among the members was Albert Heath of Coupeville, who provided the "thread of continuity" as membership shifted. Because many original members were outsiders, they did not suffer the intense anger of neighbors and friends which would burden locals who joined later; on the other hand, they did endure the acrimony of some hostile residents who resented outside interference. These members included Doug and Tams Marsh of Everett, Dr. Fred Darvill of Mount Vernon, Barbara James of La Conner, Matt Brown of Anacortes, and Ned and Pat Johnston of Everett, people who were involved in a number of environmental organizations and issues in the region. They shared an immediate goal to prevent development of the Smith farm and maintain public access to the beach and bluff trail. The group began to gather supporters, and lobbied Governor Dan Evans and state agencies to purchase the property for open space. At this stage, however, Washington State insisted that it could not afford the land, and recommended that the local planning process be used to achieve their goals instead. [13]

One man whom the McPhersons and the Friends of Ebey's contacted, local U. S. Representative Lloyd Meeds (D-Everett), favored preserving Ebey's Landing, although he was not at first convinced that federal protection was the appropriate solution. A congressman since 1964, Meeds had supported Senator Henry M. Jackson (D Washington), whose former congressional district he now represented, in establishing North Cascades National Park, and he was sympathetic to the seashore concept. Meeds was already familiar with the general area, having assisted Washington State Parks and Recreation Director Charles Odegaard in obtaining the two guns for Fort Casey State Park in 1968. Meeds' regular column in the Whidbey News-Times encouraged local park projects. He sent the McPhersons the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation's Islands of America, which recognized the recreational potential of Whidbey Island, as well as examples of legislation for other seashores, notably Cape Cod, and suggested that their committee contact the National Park Service. Meeds notified the National Park Service of his concern for the area, as had Senator Henry Jackson, who suggested to NPS director George B. Hartzog, Jr. a gateway-style project similar to those in New York and San Francisco. [14] It was Lloyd Meeds' continuing interest, however, that would be vital to the future of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve. [15]

Between June 10-11, 1971, the National Park Service sent a team to tour Ebey's Landing. The Pacific Northwest Region's associate regional director for park management, Bennet T. Gale, and the assistant director of cooperative activities, Rodger W. Pegues, made the preliminary reconnaissance. They agreed that Ebey's Landing should be protected, but concluded that, by itself, it lacked sufficient size and recreational opportunity to become a national seashore. 'The property owners," they noted, "want the area to remain as it is but cannot avoid forever the Charybdis of potential profit and the Scylla of rising taxes." However, Gale and Pegues affirmed that the Puget Sound area represented a "tremendous opportunity" for recreational pursuits. Ebey's Landing possessed outstanding recreational potential and natural beauty, and the resources were "clearly of national significance." The area would be appropriate within a "cluster" of seashore properties if a larger Puget Sound park were established. But Pegues and Gale did not make policy and could only send the hopeful back to the state legislature for support. Pegues suggested again in December 1972 that the National Park Service might be more likely to recommend the "cluster" national seashore if the state, through its department of natural resources, first acquired the Ebey's Landing tidelands. The NPS Pacific Northwest Regional Office would not be directly involved with Ebey's Landing again for several years. In the meantime, community and environmental activists were busy. [16]

The McPhersons transferred temporarily to Oregon in late 1971, but the Friends of Ebey's and the Northwest National Seashore Alliance, to which many of them belonged, continued to work for land protection. [17] They invited the public to join in an outdoor meeting for the first time in October 1972, and approximately one hundred people attended. The group's efforts and influence began to grow. [18] In fact, two types of preservation movement were forming which would embrace the entire midsection of Whidbey Island. One focused on the conservation of open space and the other on historic preservation, but they had much in common. [19]

The National Register of Historic Places

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission proceeded with its obligation under the National Historic Preservation Act to survey its historic buildings and sites. In 1970 it requested that the Island County Historical Society compile a list of all structures with historical significance that were worthy of preservation. The criteria for National Register listing did not require that a property be of national significance, and in fact encouraged the inclusion of properties with state or local significance. In addition, an entire historic district could be listed, which would avoid the necessity of registering each structure separately. [20]

In 1971, Jimmie Jean Cook, a historian active in the Island County Historical Society, assumed responsibility for the inventory. Cook's experience as an Island County records clerk guided her as she painstakingly collected information on each structure and its previous owners through county records, archives, and personal interviews. [21]

Intending at first only to nominate individual buildings identified in an inventory she completed for the historical society, Cook began to perceive a pattern that unified the individual properties. She traced the significant properties on a U. S. Geological Survey map and realized that many of the old Donation Land Act claims were still identifiable by roads, fencelines and other small-scale features, and that many of the old ownership patterns were still evident in central Whidbey Island. A large number of the structures dated back to the original settlers. With this information, Cook expanded her list of eligible properties to include historic buildings within the area of settlement induced by the Donation Land Claim Act. It was becoming clear that she was describing not just individual structures but a unified historic district of great significance. [22]

The fact that the areas that were most visually appealing and historically significant were also coveted by real estate developers was more than apparent to Jimmie Jean Cook. As her nephew and fellow historian, Ken House, explained: Cook "began to perceive an interrelationship of her historical and environmental goals." Now she thought she saw a means to fight the "spoilers" who threatened to bulldoze an important part of the state's heritage. [23] Cook outlined a wedge-shaped historic preservation district that radiated westward from the mouth of Penn Cove. The district followed the original Donation Land Claim boundaries, explicitly acknowledging the historic landscape as well as historic buildings. It included more than eight thousand acres, with over 100 structures and sites, including properties in Fort Casey State Park. One of the oldest communities within the Puget Sound, it had more pre-1870 buildings than any other town in the state. Many of the original wooden false-front buildings on Front Street dating from the 1880s were still intact. Coupeville was about to become the largest historic district in the nation. [24]

While national registration did not ensure that these historic sites would be safe from destruction, listing would offer a degree of protection from federally financed or licensed projects that might adversely impact the properties. In addition, National Register properties were eligible for tax benefits and federal matching funds for restoration and preservation. By October 1972, the town of Coupeville, Island County, and the state of Washington had approved the nomination and passed appropriate ordinances to establish a Central Whidbey Island Historic District. In 1973, the district was officially listed on the National Register as an area of statewide significance. Jimmie Jean Cook, who had joined the Island County Historic Advisory Committee, continued her vigilance over the historic landscape, and found the time to publish a book, A Particular Friend, Penn's Cove, which detailed the settlement of central Whidbey Island by European-Americans. It was Cook in particular who promoted the establishment of the historic district and laid the groundwork for the future historical reserve.

Cook also helped create an additional tool for environmentalists. The Rocking K- Bar Ranch development would be one of the first projects reviewed by the county's historic district advisory committee. [25] Friends of Ebey's and others used the historic district designation as one more way to preserve the cultural landscape. [26]

Keystone Spit Contested

Despite heightened concern about the historic landscape and its new status as a historic district, plans for large development projects continued to be proposed within the boundaries of the Central Whidbey Island Historic District. Backed by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Port of Coupeville, the Dillingham Development Corporation of Nevada (referred to here as "Dillingham") planned a marina on Crockett Lake in the early 1970s. The Port Commissioner quickly found several light industries eager to establish business along the shore. Crockett Lake was a brackish lake which originally spanned over five hundred acres. During the 1940s and 1950s, it was reduced by the drainage district to a ten-acre pond in order to create more farmland, and, at times due to a damaged tidegate, water levels have fluctuated ever since. It had become a refuge and stopover for migrating waterfowl, supporting between 1,200 and 1,500 ducks annually. Rare and endangered species such as river otters, bald eagles, marsh hawks, whistling swans, snowy owls, great blue herons, and shovellers had used the lake as sanctuary. Not surprisingly, environmentalists opposed the marina proposal. [27]

The marina proposal would ultimately be dropped, but Dillingham had additional plans in the area involving Seattle real estate broker Robert Hanson of First Realty. As previously stated, the Smith farm was not the only real estate in which First Realty had invested. As he was signing the contract with the Smith family, Hanson was trying to develop Holmes Harbor on south Whidbey Island. First Realty was also a partner and agent for Dillingham at Keystone Spit near Fort Casey. The corporation had recently acquired the 1.3-mile cobble beach and spit through a merger with Foss Launch and Tug, which had a sand and gravel business and had owned the spit for years. Dillingham and First Realty united to plan "Seabreeze," a large development of single-family dwellings to be spread out along 182 lots on the spit. Despite his contract with the Smiths, Hanson turned his attention to Seabreeze, allowing the Smith development to languish until 1973. Within three more years he would leave the Smiths burdened with debts, their land undeveloped. [28]

Starting in 1971, Dillingham began applying for permits to build on the old Chicago and Brooklyn townsites on Keystone Spit. In February 1972 the Island County Planning Commission recommended rejecting their attempt to combine the old plats to create larger lots. The developers appealed to the Island County Board of Commissioners, of which John R. Vanderzicht was chairman. Vanderzicht also happened to be a stockholder and chairman of the board of directors of Island Savings and Loan Association, which held the mortgage on Seabreeze. [29] Before the county commissioners acted on the appeal, Robert Hanson wrote a report to Dillingham in which he said that he had consulted with Vanderzicht about the Seabreeze project. Vanderzicht had not only stated his support of a project spurned by the planning department, but even asked for additional information to help the county commissioners overrule the planners. Hanson reported that Vanderzicht had assured his support. In April 1972, the county commissioners overruled the planning commission and gave preliminary approval to the $2 million project. [30]

In August 1973, Dillingham began construction of roads and service lines on the spit. Only then did the residents of the area grasp the scope of the proposed development. In response, a citizens' activist group called Save Whidbey Island For Tomorrow (SWIFT) formed. Their chief spokesperson was Al Ryan, a retired carpenter who had relocated to Whidbey Island from Los Angeles in 1971. SWIFT charged that Dillingham had not prepared an environmental impact statement as required by the new State Environmental Policy Act, which was supported by county ordinances. [31] Although the Central Whidbey Island Historic Advisory Committee recognized that Dillingham had gotten approval for its plats before the area's inclusion in the new historic district, it, too, notified Island County Planning Director Sydney Glover of its interest in both the Keystone and the Smith development plans. The committee pointed out that if Dillingham used federal or federally secured loans for Seabreeze, it was required to comply with the law regarding properties listed in the National Register of Historic Places. (Hanson had acquired the mortgage on the Smith farm, it should be recalled, through the Federal Land Bank.) [32]

SWIFT joined with the Washington Environmental Council, the Seattle Audubon Society, and Dr. Cecil Riggall of Coupeville to file a class-action lawsuit against the county for failing to require an environmental impact statement on Seabreeze. The group hired environmental lawyer Roger Leed to represent them. The case would test the strength of the State Environmental Protection Act; if SWIFT won, Dillingham would have to submit an environmental impact statement and reapply for all permits and approvals for the project. [33] SWIFT warned of the effect that Seabreeze would have on Crockett Lake, its surrounding wetlands, and the wildlife it supported. The group pointed out that the project would further congest the Admiralty Head area, already heavily impacted by visitors using Fort Casey Historical State Park, Keystone Spit, and the nearby underwater park. [34]

Despite the continuing court battle, Dillingham erected two model houses, installed water and sewer mains and a small road system on the south side of the spit facing Admiralty Inlet, decorating the structures with balloons and flags to attract buyers. This was the first phase of a planned development including over two hundred units. [35] But the Army Corps of Engineers rejected the proposed marina on Crockett Lake in 1974, which had promised to link sewage lines with Seabreeze, and this undermined Dillingham's investment in the project. The SWIFT lawsuit would finish it.

The case wore on for three years, and was settled by the Washington State Supreme Court in 1976. The court ruled that Island County planners had erred in their finding of "no significant impact," and that in fact the Keystone project threatened an important wildlife habitat. It also voided the county commissioners' decision favoring the development for the sake of the "appearance of fairness"; Commissioner Vanderzicht's personal ties to the project were clear. [36]

SWIFT's lawsuit halted the Dillingham project in 1976 and depleted First Realty's assets. The companies boarded up the two buildings on Keystone Spit and listed the entire property for sale. [37] This meant that money that the Smiths had expected from Robert Hanson and First Realty would never materialize, even though Hanson had produced an elegant new plan for Ebey's Prairie in 1973.

Ebey's Prairie: Second Round

In 1973, First Realty and the Smith family attempted to address the aesthetic complaints raised by their first proposal for Ebey's Prairie. They now recognized, they said, that "sales will come as a result of [our] not destroying the very reasons for locating condominiums here." First Realty redrew its plans to minimize visual intrusions and to contain development in a "working ranch" or "ranchettes," where homes camouflaged with sod roofs would be confined to nineteen acres along the northwestern ridge of the Smith property. The Rocking K-Bar Ranch Corporation hoped that such proposed alterations would lay to rest concerns about building on the scenic Ebey's Prairie landscape. In October 1973 they presented their plans to the county planning commission, explaining to the commissioners that the northwestern ridge soils were too poor to cultivate and that the area was better suited to housing than farming. Citing high taxes, they argued that they must develop a portion of their farm in order to hold onto the rest. [38]

Some members of the public were satisfied with the new plans, but others objected. The environmental impact statement prepared for the Smiths did not address the potential recreational uses of the ranch by the new condo dwellers, nor did it consider in detail the impact of the proposed community on county facilities. In the opinion of the Northwest National Seashore Alliance the report had expressed intentions to maintain the view unimpaired for the enjoyment of the owners, without considering the visual impact of the project from the other side of the valley. [39] Friends of Ebey's members praised the Smiths for trying to adapt to their concerns, but insisted that a housing development could not be hidden anywhere on the broad sweep of Ebey's Prairie. They and the new Central Whidbey Island Historic Advisory Committee also questioned if the "working ranch" would truly remain undeveloped. They reminded the commission that a national seashore might still be possible. Representative Meeds had recently informed the Island County Planning Commission that he was working with an International Joint Commission of the United States and Canada to plan an international marine park that might include the area. [40] Upon reflection the planning commission decided to postpone a decision on the plat until all had considered the environmental impact statement prepared for the project. [41] Perhaps to remind environmentalists that it still controlled the property, the Rocking K-Bar Ranch posted a sign warning the public that access onto the property from the north was limited and could be revoked at any time. [42]

The planning commission resumed public discussion of the Smith plat in the spring and summer of 1974, meeting three times amid accelerating controversy before approving the project with only minor changes. [43] The attorneys for the project had argued so vigorously against changes to the plans that they created doubts for some people that they would honor their design pledge. Since most residents, including local farmers, agreed that the open landscape was worth preserving, the commission's vote to support the project was especially galling to environmentalists. Al Ryan of SWIFT accused Island County of supporting a platting department rather than a planning department, while the Northwest National Seashore Alliance could only hope that "nobody is going to be fool enough to build Levittown in the middle of the largest Historic Preservation District in the nation." Ken Pickard, twenty-three-year-old son of local businessman Herb Pickard, saw Commissioner Carl Mecklenberg [44] wink at Roberta Smith during the proceedings, as if, Pickard thought, to assure her that public testimony would not affect his vote. The Smiths and Pickards had been friends and neighbors for three generations, but this moment was something of an epiphany for Ken. He made up his mind at that moment to remain in law school (which he had considered dropping) in order to combat the pro- development forces in control of the future of Ebey's Prairie. Ken went on to study environmental law with Roger Leed at the University of Washington. He and his wife Claire became guiding forces in the Friends of Ebey's, as well as outspoken opponents of subsequent development projects proposed for the area in the decades to follow. When Ken finished law school he and Claire remained in central Whidbey Island. Earlier they had received Robert Pratt's permission to re-open Jacob Ebey's abandoned house on the ridgetop. Living within three hundred feet of Roberta Smith, the Pickards hovered over Ebey's Prairie like guardian angels--or avenging angels, depending upon one's point of view. [45]

The public challenges from neighbors and the Friends of Ebey's left the Smiths hurt and angry. The Smith widows thought that other landowners might have done no differently with the property had it been theirs. Winning final county approval for their plat did not solve their financial problems; nor did they build the "ranchettes." Robert Hanson had sunk into debt on his Holmes Harbor project, and had invested heavily in Seabreeze. Now these projects were failing and he was unable to make mortgage payments or to proceed with the Rocking K-Bar development. In September 1976, Roberta Smith Hem [46] foreclosed on the mortgage at a public auction on the steps of the Island County Courthouse. Her lawyer, Chester Adair, placed the only bid. The property went into receivership for one year as Roberta and Marion, whose husband George had died in February, put up the farm and their houses as loan collateral. Because the Smith family was burdened with estate taxes and debts from the First Realty debacle, they announced that they must sell some of their land quickly. They also acknowledged that they would prefer to sell the land to a government land management agency. Adair began immediate negotiations with the state to sell the waterfront properties. [47]

Ebey's Landing: Beach for Sale

Like the Smiths' lawyer Chester Adair, the Friends of Ebey's also worked toward state acquisition of Ebey's Prairie. At the advice of state and federal park planners, Ken Pickard created the Ebey's Landing Open Space Foundation (ELOSF) in March 1977, an organization established to acquire and hold conservation easements or donated land in order to "remove them from the development pressures of the market place" and to transform them from "commodities" into public resources. Its main purpose was to hold lands and interests in lands until such an agency could assume responsibility for them. ELOSF set a long-term goal to win protection for the coastal corridor from Fort Ebey to Fort Casey, including Keystone Spit, which had come perilously close to development. [48]

ELOSF contacted Sid Malbon of the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation (BOR), the administrator of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF). [49] The LWCF had been established to provide matching recreation and park funds to states. [50] ELOSF initially sought matching funds to keep the Smith farm in agricultural use, but as a matter of policy the BOR encouraged projects that were easily accessible to large numbers of urban dwellers. The BOR was more enthusiastic, therefore, about the beach corridor and Keystone Spit. The federal agency did contact charitable trusts for the group in 1977, and recommended several steps that ELOSF or the Friends of Ebey's could take immediately. These included applying to the state office of archaeology and historic preservation (SHPO) for funding to acquire development rights on the Smith farm, and seeking legislative sponsors for an Ebey's Prairie conservation and historic area. [51]

State land management agencies offered sympathy and assistance, but little funding. Acquiring money through the LWCF took time--up to two years--and the Friends of Ebey's knew that the Smiths could not wait that long. In August 1977, the ELOSF also applied to the SHPO for a $250,000 grant-in-aid to assist in acquiring a conservation easement or development rights for Ebey's Prairie. [52] The request was included in the state's 1978 application for federal historic preservation funds. But in March 1978, the SHPO turned down the foundation's request, stating that it could not provide its matching share through land donations.

At this point, the local state senator Floyd ("Pat") Wanamaker (R-Tenth District) intervened in the continuing Ebey's Landing negotiations. The Wanamaker family had owned a large farm in the area of the old Crockett Donation Land Claim for two generations. They were also long-time friends of the Smith family. Wanamaker contacted Roberta Smith and asked her what she would take for the beach and bluff property. She said $750,000. Wanamaker requested money in the 1978 budget, and he introduced and piloted a bill through the legislature to acquire the beach corridor and bluff as a state recreation area. The bill requested $375,000, to be matched by funds from the LWCF. On the strength of his friendships in the legislature and his strong working relationship with Charles Odegaard, the director of Washington State Parks and Recreation, the bill passed. [53]

In November 1977, Roberta Smith Hem and her husband Arne met with the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission to negotiate selling a strip of land up to 200 feet wide along the beach. This would secure both the beach and the trail along the top of the bluff overlooking Puget Sound. Chief planner William Bush of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission arranged an appraisal, and the state made an offer of $526,000. [54] Then developer Clyde ("Bud") Wagner stepped in with a counter-offer. To understand his proposition, it would be helpful at this point to look south to Keystone Spit and the events unfolding there. [55]

Keystone Spit: New Owners, SWIFT Response

After the state supreme court voided its original permits in July 1976, Lowell Dillingham of the Dillingham Corporation offered to sell the barrier beach to Edgar Scholz, an American mining engineer living in Canada, for $350,000. Interested in the proposition, Scholz invited Bud Wagner to become a partner in the project. Wagner had opened a gas station on Whidbey Island in 1954, but soon switched to selling real estate. He was an astute businessman who knew how to maximize land values and present his goals and opinions forcefully. He was a partner in the Crockett Lake Company and in 1972 had sold Scholz 415 acres of the old Wanamaker farm, which bordered the northern half of Crockett Lake. Wagner agreed to provide half of the purchase price for the spit. [56]

At the same time that Scholz and Wagner pursued their development plan, Al Ryan of SWIFT was in the process of organizing a citizens' drive for purchase of the spit as a state park. Although he had received enthusiastic endorsement from a variety of land management agencies, none had funds readily available for the purchase. [57] He suggested to the Island County planning commission that there were "millions of federal dollars" in the LWCF and the Coastal Management Fund, and that Washington's U. S. Senators Jackson and Magnuson chaired oversight committees for these departments in the Senate. [58] That year the Island County shoreline access study concluded that the county did not provide adequate shoreline access to the general public, and recommended the acquisition of the beach at Keystone Spit for use as a county or state day use area. [59]

In 1976, Scholz and Wagner bought 250 acres on Keystone Spit for $310,000. Since the court had overturned the Dillingham subdivision, the land had reverted to the old Chicago and Brooklyn plats. Combining these into five-acre building lots, the partners purchased the land in alternating lots. This, they agreed, would most equitably divide the land. The pattern of alternating lots also meant that the owners could someday file a series of short plats for each lot; only long plats, as is explained in Chapter Five, require public hearings. Now Scholz and Wagner commissioned a reappraisal of their land, which established a new value of $3,500,000, ten times the Dillingham Corporation's original price tag. [60]

Despite the sale, Island County applied to the state for the federal LWCF grant. Jan Tveten, assistant director of state parks and recreation, recommended the Keystone purchase to the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation. SWIFT president Al Ryan accelerated the letter writing campaign, and distributed thousands of brochures with tear-off cards addressed to IAC. Acquisition of the spit for recreation became the state's highest priority. But the county was required to pay some of the acquisition costs, and it lacked the capital. Island County reapplied in 1978, but by then the spit had been reappraised at $3.5 million, more than the total budget of the IAC for all land purchases earmarked by the state. [61] Throughout the summer of 1978 the county attempted to negotiate an acceptable price with Scholz and Wagner. The landowners offered to donate some of the value of the spit toward the purchase price. Still no agency could afford the expenditure. The rating of Keystone Spit for federal funding fell to thirty-first out of thirty-four applications, and the county reluctantly withdrew its application in October 1978. [62]

New Partners on Smith Property: The State Buys the Beach

Bud Wagner's offer to the Smith family on Ebey's Prairie essentially duplicated the pattern at Keystone Spit. In June 1978, he bought one-third of the farm for $350,000. Ownership was distributed in sixty-one parcels of five acres each among Wagner and his wife Lorraine, Marion Smith, and Roberta Smith Hem. [63] Creation of five-acre lots did not require approval of the county. Like earlier plans for the property, Wagner proposed to build "Ebey Landing Estates" [sic] along the northwest ridge, which he knew was "prime, prime residential property." He commissioned an appraisal of the parcels by South Island County Realty; the combined value amounted to $4,100,000. [64]

The landowners now segmented ownership of the beach as well, and it was reappraised at $1,100,000. Rejecting the state's original $526,000 appraisal for the beach property as too low, they agreed in December 1978 to settle for $713,000 of the $750,000 that State Senator Pat Wanamaker had requested. After this was accomplished, most of the remaining funds went to Albert Heath, who sold his section of the beach to the north of the Smith/Wagner beach for considerably less profit (he also donated part of the proceeds to pay legal fees for the Friends of Ebey's). [65]

In the fall of 1978, the county commissioners had passed an ordinance exempting five-acre parcels from review under county platting law, something which had long occurred, but without clear legal sanction. Once Bud Wagner and the Smith family had divided the farm, they submitted short plats on many of the parcels. In response to their subsequent development efforts, the Friends of Ebey's filed a lawsuit both to prevent development and to force reconsideration of the land's zoning in light of the county comprehensive plan (this is discussed in more detail in Chapter Six).

Lloyd Meeds Steps In

One unexpected factor created hope that the remainder of the Smith Farm could be preserved. Local U. S. Representative Lloyd Meeds renewed his interest in Ebey's Landing. Long a supporter of purchasing open space and scenic easements, Meeds acknowledged that it would be "criminal" if Ebey's Landing were "allowed to slip into cluttered private development." Meeds, who announced his intention to retire by the end of 1978, began working in earnest in the spring of that year to preserve Ebey's Landing. Four units of the state park system were in the Central Whidbey Island Historic District: Fort Ebey, Rhododendron Park, the beach at Ebey's Landing, and Fort Casey. The fact that the land was near Fort Ebey State Park made protecting Ebey's Prairie a logical choice for public ownership. [66] In a pending omnibus parks bill, Meeds found an opportunity to protect the land. And in a relatively new land management category, the ''reserve," he and his Washington colleagues sought to preserve open space without threatening property rights or the lifestyle of Whidbey Islanders.

The Reserve Concept

Land planners in the late 1970s had long been aware that more Americans were moving from cities to the country. This trend threatened small farm communities poorly equipped to handle the population influx. Land agencies recognized the growing need for land protection, and the decreasing availability of funds and open space. "Greenline parks" or reserves were first established in England after World War II in populated, working landscapes, and the idea spread to America. [67] Greenline parks permitted a mix of public and private ownership and intergovernmental planning and cooperation. In April 1976, the National Park Service published its Revised Land Acquisition Policy, which defined national reserves:

National Reserves (Areas of National Concern) -- Federal, State, and local governments form a special partnership around an area to be protected. Planning, implementation and maintenance is a joint effort and is based on a mutual desire to protect the resource. Under this concept, the Federal Government, through the National Park Service, may acquire core zones intended to protect and permit appropriate use of the most vital physical resources within authorized boundaries of the area. The balance of property within these areas may be protected through a combination of acquisition and management by the State and local governments, and the development of zoning or similar controls acceptable to the Secretary of the Interior. [68]

Traditionally, parks were created through the purchase of private properties or out of lands in the public domain. In a reserve, the federal government encouraged rather than excluded private land ownership. The protection of core zones through the purchase of development rights could preserve an area's most important resources without fee-simple purchase. [69]

The reserve concept required cooperation and partnership between federal, state and local governments, as well as private citizens and landowners, to preserve an area of national significance. Such partners would work toward a mutually acceptable plan of protecting a cultural landscape. [70]

Legislation of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve

In February 1977, Senator Frank Church of Idaho introduced S. 791 to appropriate funds for the acquisition of a portion of the Sawtooth National Recreation Area in Idaho. By the time the 95th Congress approved the final bill in 1978, it had snowballed into one of the largest pieces of legislation ever passed affecting the national park system, the National Parks and Recreation Act of 1978. Representative Phillip Burton of California, the architect of the legislation, shepherded the omnibus bill through Congress so skillfully that one colleague likened his efforts to a "benevolent steam roller." [71] Among the amendments tacked onto Church's bill was Lloyd Meed's bill to establish Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve.

In April 1978, Meeds' aide Bill McDonald met with the Island County Board of Commissioners and citizens from Whidbey Island. [72] As the last available open space with access to a beach, the land was ideal for public protection, McDonald reported back to Meeds, and "the time is ripe to do something about the land at Ebey's Landing." Everyone at the meeting had agreed that they wanted to keep farmland in production on Whidbey Island and to prevent housing developments from destroying the historic scenery. But the Smith Farm would surely fall to residential development if someone did not help the family soon. [73]

Meeds' idea of creating a reserve probably came as a result of consultations with the House Office of Legislative Counsel, although no one today remembers exactly. [74] On April 27, 1978, Meeds submitted H. R. 12423 to be inserted as a provision to H.R. 12536, the omnibus parks bill. Meeds knew that he did not want "the prairie to be a big recreation area and have the land just sit there." [75 ] He therefore proposed that the Central Whidbey Island Historic District be designated a national historical reserve, to be managed by county government with federal assistance; the language of the bill was later amended to designate "a unit of local government" as manager. Five million dollars would be authorized for related expenses, but lands could not be acquired without the consent of the owner. Meeds hoped that a reserve would placate local citizens "who might be concerned about big brother Federal government." [76]

The advantages of a reserve were not immediately apparent to other congressmen, however. One of the initial problems with Meeds' proposal was that Ebey's Landing Reserve did not appear to be a clearly defined Park Service unit, and this could raise congressional objections. Burton wanted nothing to jeopardize a favorable vote for his parks bill. The bill was already massive, and he was concerned that further additions-- especially if they were in the least bit controversial--would lose rather than gain support for the package. [77] Meeds then decided that if Burton did not object, perhaps Meeds could enlist Washington State's powerful Senator Henry M. Jackson, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee, to introduce the Ebey's Landing bill on the Senate side. Then Burton could say that Jackson was "ramming it down his throat" and that he had no choice but to include it in the omnibus bill. [78]

Senator Jackson and his staff regarded reserves as a way to preserve open space with a minimum of disruption to landowners. A reserve designation could provide initial federal support without threatening local autonomy. "A long-term role for the National Park Service at Ebey's Landing is not necessary," Laura Beatty, the Jackson staffer assigned to research the Ebey's Landing project, advised, "and might, in the long run, prevent any further conservation attempts in the Puget Sound." [79] The reserve idea permitted immediate protection of critical lands threatened by development, and allowed for continued federal technical assistance while transferring the management role to Island County. The greatest disadvantage to the reserve concept, Beatty concluded, was regulation. 'This problem was solved in the past by simply buying everything," she said. "Without sounding trite, it's time to try a new approach.., should [it] fail, the Secretary [of the interior] can assume management of the area and a traditional historic site approach can be pursued." [80]

With such support, Meeds' amendment met no congressional opposition. Jackson attached Section 508, Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, as an amendment to S. B. 791. "Scoop Jackson was special," former NPS director William J. Whalen acknowledged. "We wouldn't have a lot of debate [on the bill in committee]. This was typical of the more powerful members of the committees." [81]

William Whalen had worked closely with Congressman Burton as General Superintendent of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which was in Burton's district. In fact Burton, as chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, had sponsored Whalen's subsequent rise to the directorship of the NPS. Whalen presided over the final phase of what has been characterized as a long, expansionary period in NPS history. He recognized that partnership parks would become increasingly prevalent. Although Ebey's Landing was far from his "radar screen," as he put it, he philosophically supported the idea, and he directed the NPS Office of Legislation to work with congressional staffers on the draft legislation. [82]

The journey of the Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve bill was not entirely smooth, however. The assistant interior secretary for fish and wildlife and parks, Robert L. Herbst, recognized that a cost-conscious White House was trying to restrain what some referred to as the "parks barrel bill." Under pressure from the Office of Management and Budget to perform triage on the omnibus bill, Robert Herbst shuttled between Burton and the White House, seeking compromise with each. Although Herbst was enthusiastic about creating parks near metropolitan areas, Ebey's Landing seemed less supportable than some of the other lands under consideration. Citing the lack of a federal study of the area and, in his opinion, questionable national significance, Herbst formally opposed the Meeds bill in a July 21 House subcommittee hearing. [83]

Russell E. Dickenson, regional director of the National Park Service in Seattle, also had initial doubts about the reserve. In his previous post as NPS deputy director under Ronald Walker, Dickenson had encouraged park system consolidation rather than "unwarranted" expansionism. He was characteristically skeptical about Ebey's Landing.

Dickenson's primary objection was that Ebey's Landing lacked true national historical significance. As far as he was concerned, the proposed unit represented failure on the part of county and state agencies to resolve a land zoning issue. The real thrust of the movement to preserve Ebey's Landing was to prevent the loss of a rural landscape to the forces of suburbanization. To Dickenson, purchase of easements and development rights was at least a useful stopgap, but it was a poor substitute for fee-simple purchases of land. Many "imponderables" could surface, such as changes in administration or zoning laws, leaving managers uncertain of where they stood. Furthermore, projects such as Ebey's Landing diluted the mission of the National Park Service. The Service, he felt, should "hold its head high" to make sure that its standards were met. With Ebey's Landing in mind, he proclaimed that "Proposition 13, passed in California and the tax mood of the country, is a clear mandate for Government to be prudent in its affairs and not get involved in beneficent programs largely outside established authorities." Later, as director of the National Park Service, a position he would assume in May 1980, Dickenson sought to move the Service away from expansionism. With increasing budgetary constraints, he fought only for additions to the park system that he considered truly meritorious; otherwise, he believed, they would bleed resources from established parks. But in the meantime, "Jackson came at me pretty strong," Dickenson admitted. "I had to find a compromise." That compromise would be to accept Ebey's Landing if it could be turned over to local control. For now, Dickenson viewed the reserve concept as a catch-all, a category to which one assigned an area when one did not know what to do with it. In years to come, however, he expressed the belief that it could be an innovative and valuable idea. If it worked on Whidbey Island, he later stated, it would probably work elsewhere as well. [84]

Supported by Washington State's powerful congressmen, the Meeds bill survived, despite its relatively minor status in the omnibus package. Its fate ultimately rested less on its own merits than on powerful congressional support and a widespread desire to expedite the parks and recreation bill. With backers of the Ebey's Landing Reserve waiting anxiously, President Jimmy Carter signed Public Law 95-625 on November 10, 1978, one day before the deadline for presidential approval.

Terms of Public Law 95-625

Section 508 of the Parks and Recreation Act of 1978 (Public Law 95-625) established Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve. Its boundaries were the same as those of the historic district established in 1973. The language of the law cited the unbroken historical record of the central Whidbey Island community "from nineteenth century exploration and settlement in Puget Sound to the present time" and emphasized four historic eras: Vancouver's exploration of the Puget Sound in 1792; the first permanent settlement on Whidbey Island, led by Isaac Ebey; the Donation Land Claim settlements and subsequent settlements; and the development of Coupeville.

Several aspects of the legislation made Ebey's Landing an unusual addition to the national park system. First of all, Ebey's Landing was the first historical reserve in the country. Secondly, the secretary of the interior would transfer management responsibility to state or local government (the level of government would be decided in the comprehensive planing process). Congress did not intend that the day-to-day management and administration of the reserve remain with the National Park Service. At such time as the state or appropriate units of local government having jurisdiction over land use within the reserve had enacted appropriate zoning ordinances to protect its historic and natural features, management would be conveyed to local government. Washington State parks and other agencies already established in the area would continue to function with little impact from the reserve. The Park Service would continue to provide technical assistance and provide grants of up to fifty percent of the reserve's annual cost of operations and maintenance. If the secretary found that local authorities had failed to conform to the plan, he could assume control of the reserve.

The Act required a comprehensive plan within eighteen months to identify those areas most appropriate for 1) public use and development; 2) historic and natural preservation; and 3) private use subject to appropriate local zoning ordinances designed to protect the historical rural setting. Congress could appropriate no funds without the plan. Once it was completed, Island County would use the final document to establish appropriate zoning ordinances while NPS proceeded to implement the necessary land protection measures. [85]

Another stipulation, unusual for a National Park Service area, was that lands and/or interests in lands could be acquired, but only with the consent of the owner. No condemnation could occur in the reserve. The federal government would be able to acquire a small amount of land and purchase development rights and/or architectural controls within the most critical areas under consideration in the reserve. The Act authorized $5 million for development costs and purchase of lands and interests therein (that is, scenic easements). [86]

Unmentioned in the legislation, but of some impact, was the status of the reserve within the national park system. Initially considered a full NPS unit, for four years (from 1988 to 1992) the reserve was considered an affiliated unit of the national park system. The NPS in Washington, D.C., justified this because Ebey's Landing was ultimately not to be administered by the NPS. Affiliated units are properties that are neither wholly federally owned nor directly administered by the NPS, but which utilize NPS expertise and assistance. With such a designation, Ebey's Landing sometimes failed to appear on rosters of national parks, monuments and recreation areas. [87]

The Reserve Raises as Many Questions As It Answers

To some people on Whidbey Island, it was far from clear what had been created. Might not increased visitation destroy the rural atmosphere of Whidbey Island? How would the reserve designation permit the working cultural landscape to evolve? Would voluntary participation and purchase of conservation easements be sufficient to maintain the character of the landscape? What, precisely, would be the role of the National Park Service? Even some members of the Park Service took a wait-and-see attitude. Traditionalists knew that lands acquired in fee-simple could be permanently controlled. Accustomed to managing parks according to familiar, Service-wide policies and standards, such people understood and preferred full federal ownership of lands under NPS administration. Anything less seemed uncertain, and unmanageable.

Because of the cooperative nature of the reserve management, protecting the historical and natural landscape in central Whidbey Island would depend heavily upon complementary local zoning ordinances and land use controls. This required continued debate among the residents. There were those who welcomed the opportunity to maintain the shrinking agricultural economy. Then again, some worried that the NPS would remove land from the local tax rolls. Others, long dissatisfied with unchecked development in Island County, had sought less to maintain local control than to bypass it. The reserve had the potential to maintain a way of life but also, some people believed, to perpetuate the classic tension between public and private rights. [88]

One great irony was that Ebey's Prairie could still be developed. Once President Carter had signed the Act, the parties to the Ebey's Landing lawsuit agreed to postpone the trial in hopes that funding would become available soon. But because no money was immediately appropriated, it still remained to be seen whether the conflict between preserving open space and protecting property rights had been resolved.

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Last Updated: 27-May-2000