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

By the end of 1992, 1,350 acres of the 17,400 acre reserve had been protected by scenic easements or fee acquisition. The National Park Service is still in the process of negotiating purchases of conservation easements with private landowners. Piece by piece, as funding and landowner interest coincide, protection of historic and scenic viewsheds in the reserve increases. The Smith Farm case illustrates the effort required to satisfy both landowners and the goals of the EBLA comprehensive plan. The negotiations for this farm were conducted under pressure; in a polarized atmosphere that one analyst referred to as "environmental brinkmanship," the process nearly fell apart. Yet the final outcome pleased many people. This chapter will detail the Smith Farm settlement, and provide an overview of the land acquisition program and major land negotiations in the reserve to the present. [1]

"Our Own Little Gaza Strip"

Despite the sale of the Smiths' beach to the state in 1978, the conflict over development on Ebey's Prairie continued. In what one newspaper dubbed "the little spat on the prairie," the two main parties feuding over development on the prairie, the Smith Farm owners and the Friends of Ebey's, turned several times to the courts to resolve their differences. [2] To the Friends of Ebey's, the new "checkerboard" pattern of ownership on the Smith Farm was intended to circumvent planning laws and raise the value of the property. But as far as Bud Wagner was concerned, he was helping the Smith widows; the checkerboard division of the land had simply distributed the land equitably among the owners. With such strong positions, both sides grew increasingly frustrated with each other. [3]

In July 1978, the landowners submitted short plats for the northwest ridge and the bluff along the beach. [4] Potentially, each parcel of these 18 parcels could be subdivided into a total of 72 lots. In August the county planners denied the request, citing the Island County comprehensive plan's designation of the land as agricultural as the reason for denial. At the same time, county prosecutor David Thiele questioned the custom of exempting the division of tracts of five or more acres from long platting requirements. The five-acre exemption, he argued, had continued only by custom, not by law. But the Island County commissioners upheld the practice, since they felt that precedents had been set. Bud Wagner received a permit that would allow him to cut a road across the farm, with access to all 61 parcels. [5]

In consternation, Ken and Claire Pickard kept watch on these developments from their home on the ridge. The thought of a road crossing the open fields was too much. In September 1978, Friends of Ebey's attorney Roger Leed filed their lawsuit, naming not only the farm's owners, but the Island County commissioners and planning director Syd Glover in the suit as well. In the suit, Leed requested an immediate injunction against further road building. He also requested a reconsideration of Scholz and Wagner's division of both Ebey's Prairie and Keystone Spit, and accused the developers of an unlawful civil conspiracy to defraud the public by artificially inflating the value of their lands. The main issue, Leed told reporters, was "whether a county comprehensive plan is law once it has been adopted--whether or not a county has updated its zoning to conform with the plan." [6]

Bud Wagner "couldn't have been more shocked," he said, and was particularly puzzled about the complaint regarding the Keystone division, since the land had not been altered, or even staked. He also insisted that he had only good intentions for the development of Ebey's Prairie. He claimed that the state parks department needed a road to the bluff if the beach were to be made accessible to the public. But state assistant parks director Jan Tveten denied the need for more roads on Ebey's Prairie, and the state deputy attorney general, Malachi Murphy, scoffed at Wagner's characterization of the road as a good-will gesture. 'That's baloney," he told reporters; "they've done it for purely practical business reasons." However, a Snohomish County Superior Court judge assigned to the case denied the preliminary injunction to stop road building because Wagner and the Smiths assured the court that they did not intend further construction. A trial was set for December 1978 to decide the remaining issues. [7]

When the Parks and Recreation Act establishing the reserve passed in November 1978, hopes rose on all sides for a solution to the Smith Farm issue. With a $5 million authorization, many thought that the National Park Service could resolve the conflict quickly. A crop of alfalfa sprouted on the farm over the spring as the litigants waited to see what the NPS would offer. But by July 1979, no money had come from Congress; nor could it, until the EBLA comprehensive plan was complete. In the same month Snohomish Superior Court Judge Dennis Britt ruled that the landowners had legally divided the land, and the county issued Bud Wagner a permit to resume road building on the farm. In desperation, the Friends of Ebey's appealed the decision. [8]

But Bud Wagner was now determined to finish his project. On September 20, 1979, he warned in a letter to the Whidbey News-Times that "by the time you read this, the heart of the Ebey's Landing Historical District will be destroyed." Indeed, that day a giant yellow earthmover began to cut across the prairie. Wagner expected to add access spurs to all 61 parcels, which he and the Smith sisters-in-law would then sell undeveloped. "I hate to do this," Wagner said, but all of his proposals had been "denied, delayed or postponed" by the county:

I'm scared to death that [the county] will down-zone our land and then the historic reserve people would come around and offer to buy the development rights, but by then the value of the development rights would be practically nothing.

He had already agreed, he said, to sell six parcels overlooking the beach for more than $700,000. With the potential for 24 houses strung out along the strip, the view to Puget Sound would be permanently impaired. If Island County had promptly approved development plans for the ridge, Wagner stated to reporters, this would not have been necessary. [9]

Fuming at Wagner's "unreasonableness" when the land was "on the verge" of being paid for, the Friends of Ebey's speedily filed an emergency injunction pending appeal from the state supreme court. [10] This held for a few weeks; however, the court decided to permit the road work to continue, at least until the older lawsuit regarding the division of the farm was finally settled. Acting NPS Regional Director Edward Kurtz requested that the county commissioners impose a one-year moratorium to halt the developments on the farm and to allow the citizens' advisory committee to complete its work. T [11]he commissioners mulled this over but decided that a moratorium would be legal but too controversial. A letter to the commission from eleven local farmers, including some on the reserve's citizens' advisory committee, cautioned the commissioners to remember that farmers must be able to develop their agriculturally marginal lands. Although they offered no ideas, they requested a resolution to the stand-off on the prairie. The letter prompted the commissioners to establish a mediation committee in November 1979. It consisted of EBLA project manager Reed Jarvis, county commissioner Lou Romeo, county planning director Syd Glover, SWIFT leader Al Ryan, Whidbey News-Times reporter Dave Pinkham, Roberta Smith, [12] and Bud Wagner. For the duration Bud Wagner voluntarily suspended excavations. [13]

On the negotiating committee, Reed Jarvis attempted to give something to each faction. "[The NPS] came into a community where the sides had been dug in for years . . ." he told reporters. "We had our own little Gaza Strip here. You can't negotiate if you're polarized to such an extent that the only time you can communicate is through your lawyers in court." He said that some sort of development appeared inevitable on Ebey's Prairie; only the scope remained in question. He proposed to permit the sale of five-acre and ten-acre tracts on the prairie floor, trading densities there for more intensive development on the northwest ridge. [14] The NPS could then approach the new landowners on the prairie floor and offer to buy their development rights, perhaps allowing one house to be built on each tract. Jarvis admitted that it would be hard for "purists" to accept, but that the idea was realistic. Roberta Smith appreciated his pragmatism, but Al Ryan and the Friends of Ebey's were angry. To them, the arrangement amounted to subsidizing a subdivision with reserve funds, and violated the spirit of the Island County comprehensive plan. Albert Heath prepared mylar overlays dramatically illustrating what the development would look like, helping to solidify opposition to the proposed plans. Al Ryan would not agree to less than twenty-acre parcels on the prairie floor and the compromise failed. [15]

Privately, Jarvis counted on public outrage to stop the ensuing development of the prairie. He knew that the land would be worth more to the Smiths and Wagner with the roads completed. But he also hoped that public reaction to the earth movers would strengthen the Service's position and perhaps strike Wagner's conscience. It was also becoming apparent that the NPS would have to purchase the farm if it wanted to preserve the prairie. This was a departure from original NPS plans to purchase conservation easements only, but the Smiths and Wagner wanted to sell in fee-simple. Besides, Jarvis believed, the Service could offer Wagner a quick conclusion to his plans. He would have to open a land office and sell all the lots individually, whereas the NPS could buy the property in its entirety. Increasing Jarvis' urgency to complete an agreement was the realization that, if it were not settled quickly, pressure from potential purchasers might spiral the land values out of the Service's reach. [16]

The NPS already had to contend with those six sales in escrow on the beachfront. For the people who had contracted to purchase the lots, however, the future looked uncertain. In meetings with Jarvis, NPS lands acquisition specialist Harlan Hobbs, and Island County planners, the buyers sensed the reluctance of the land agencies to let the area go to development. At least one also believed that Wagner never intended to sell because he knew the government would purchase the land. Certainly Jarvis and Hobbs made no secret that they believed that the sales were not in the public interest. In reality, the sales were questionable. Because of the Friends of Ebey's appeal regarding the legality of subdividing the farm, the title company had listed the organization's lawsuit as an exception to title. Anyone purchasing a tract would have title conflicts if the courts ruled that the farm division was illegal. Primarily because of the clouded titles, the six land deals, which were set to close January 2, 1980, fell through. [17]

The Smiths and Wagner had retained the option to sell the entire property to the NPS. But the NPS had informed them that, if it could not purchase the entire farm, it might not buy anything. After the beach sales collapsed, Bud Wagner immediately sought a court order from Judge Britt requiring that the Friends of Ebey's post a $700,000 bond. The bond would compensate the farm owners for potential losses of sales in the event that the Friends of Ebey's lost their appeal to the State Supreme Court. Britt agreed to the bond, but lowered the amount to $200,000, which the Friends of Ebey's could not post. Because of this and the fact that the reserve still had not received its congressional appropriation, Wagner and Roberta Smith quit the negotiating team m February 1980. Their attorney announced that compromise had been lost due to "continued preservationist opposition to reasonable development in the area." The landowners would put all of their lots on the market, regardless of the title issue. "For Sale" signs sprang up on Ebey's Prairie, and an ad placed in the newspapers announced "Now at last you too can own land on Ebey Landing [sic]." [18]

Funding for EBLA Delayed

By this time, it was clear that the NPS must act quickly. Charles Odegaard, former director of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission and newly appointed deputy regional director of the NPS in Seattle, announced that the NPS would purchase the Smith Farm outright in order to prevent development. [19]

But attempts by President Carter's administration to balance the federal budget had eliminated the EBLA appropriation. That year the Land and Water Conservation Fund was reduced by seventy percent and was stretched thin to accommodate the needs of all the federal agencies requesting monies. Anxious NPS officials in Seattle contacted the Trust for Public Lands and The Nature Conservancy in hopes that one of these could purchase and temporarily hold the Smith Farm. But even these organizations required assurances that an appropriation was imminent. [20]

In the meantime, Washington's state and federal representatives were pushing for an emergency congressional appropriation. State Senator Pat Wanamaker submitted a resolution to the Washington State Senate urging Congress to appropriate the $5 million. In April 1980, U. S. Representative Al Swift (D-Bellingham), who succeeded Lloyd Meeds in District Two, and U. S. Senators Warren G. Magnuson and Henry M. Jackson contacted their respective Interior Appropriations Subcommittee chairmen requesting the appropriation for fiscal year 1981. To everyone's great relief, the House subcommittee restored $2.4 million in June 1980, specifically to purchase the Smith Farm. Jarvis, Hobbs, and the NPS attorneys proceeded to negotiate with the landowners for a combination of fee-simple and a donation, which would benefit the community and reduce the sellers' taxes on the capital gains. In the fall of 1980, they settled on a cash payment of $2.4 million, although the NPS had no actual funds in hand. Magnuson's assistant, Ed Sheets, rushed in October 1980 to secure appropriations before the 1980 presidential election and a potential change in administration. Sheets' family owned property on south Whidbey Island and he had hiked the trail at Ebey's Landing; the reserve was one of his favorite projects. Besides, "these were the kinds of things that Magnuson liked to do for the state. . . . He was eager for projects with local community support . . . We had an in-house joke," Sheets laughed:

Magnuson tried to have an even-handed approach on the Appropriations Committee, and funds would be equally divided: one-half for Washington, the other half for the rest of the country.

The Senate Appropriations Committee approved the appropriation, and because Congress had recessed, the Senate passed a special measure in September to permit the NPS to commit the money. [21]

When she heard the news, a stunned Roberta Smith told reporters: "Just a moment. I have to sit down." Shortly afterwards, the State Court of Appeals ruled that the Smith Farm division was legal. Wagner announced that he would now sell to the National Park Service. [22]

"Both Sides Are To Be Respected"

After more than a decade of difficult work and sometimes painful confrontation, the major conflict on the prairie ended. [23] On a bright October Sunday in 1980, a large crowd gathered on the bluffs above Ebey's Prairie to witness a long-awaited occasion. With a sedate but elated Reed Jarvis acting as master of ceremonies, local citizens and representatives from every level of government applauded as the farm owners and Russ Dickenson, newly appointed director of the National Park Service, signed the sales contract. One Coupeville resident noted: "I've never seen everyone on both sides of the issue smiling, all at the same time." [24] Whidbey News-Times reporter Dave Pinkham commented eloquently, "It couldn't have been easy for Roberta [Smith] to stand there Sunday alongside her adversaries." He continued:

She wasn't surrounded by allies as the environmentalists were--her courage is to be respected. Both sides are to be respected. The battle did not always bring out the best in the actors involved. But that is often the case with verbal and legal battles. Wounds may leave scars, but they do heal. . . . All the interpersonal conflicts . . . pale by comparison to the real issue: the prairie. [25]

In 1985, Governor John D. Spellman awarded the Friends of Ebey's the Washington State Ecological Commission's Environmental Excellence Award.

The Terms of the Smith Farm Sale

The Service agreed in October 1980 to purchase 293 acres from Wagner and the Smiths for $2.4 million, leaving a parcel on the northwest ridge for Marion Smith's use; Roberta Smith already owned a home on the ridge. Hobbs and Jarvis did not seek to acquire scenic easements on these properties. They understood that Marion Smith would keep her land for a home herself and perhaps to build one other home. [26]

Roberta's son Bill and his wife Renee retained twenty acres surrounding the old Gould farmhouse, in the center of the prairie where they lived. The NPS acquired a scenic easement on this holding. Bill and his brother Steve leased back the entire farm from the NPS for three years. Part of their agreement with the federal government was that they would restore the farmland and obliterate the roads that Bud Wagner had constructed. [27]

Before the congressional appropriation for land acquisition came through, Reed Jarvis was approaching landowners to discuss acquisition of scenic easements or development rights within the reserve. Jarvis and realty specialist Hobbs knew that if the NPS were to purchase the Smith Farm outright, they could offer the land in exchange for rights on other important parcels in Ebey's Prairie. Such trades had been accomplished before in the NPS, but creativity now was especially important, given the shortage of funds for the reserve. The highest priority was other lands on Isaac Ebey's prairie. The most logical choice, Hobbs believed, was to offer the Smith Farm to neighboring farmers Al and Roger Sherman, who owned around 270 acres on the prairie, including the northeast quarter of the original Isaac Ebey Donation Land Claim.

Not everyone was pleased with this decision. Although all the farm families in the area were old friends, the negotiation appeared uncompetitive to some people. For example, some members of the extended Engle family believed that they, too, owned important portions of the prairie vista, and would have welcomed the opportunity to acquire the Smith Farm. Len Engle, in particular, whose father, Bob Engle, Sr., owned a large parcel on the eastern uplands of the prairie, would have liked to own the Smith Farm. [28] Then there was Burton Engle, who, in tandem with Robert Pratt, owned almost all of the southeast quarter of the Isaac Ebey claim (the two men also separately owned major properties adjoining Ebey's Prairie and land along the beach). But Robert Engle, Sr.'s land was farther from the heart of the prairie than the Shermans' farm. And Burton Engle, who felt uncomfortable with the idea of encumbering his land with easements, would not negotiate with the Service. Nor would Robert Pratt. In Hobbs' and Jarvis' opinion, the Sherman exchange was the only viable option. [29]

A scenic easement on a farm had to take into account the unified cultural landscape and what constituted appropriate land uses for that area. But it should not hamper effective farm operations. As best he could, Harlan Hobbs tailored the terms and conditions of the scenic easements to meet the needs of the landowners and protect the reserve. Early drafts of the Sherman agreement raised concerns among the Shermans because the language, meant to eliminate the possibility of inappropriate land uses, seemed to interfere with the day-to-day operation of the farm. Hobbs broadened it to permit reasonable changes in agricultural uses and practices. Hobbs and the Shermans also negotiated terms to provide some development to accommodate the younger generation and future expansion of the farm. Space around the dairy was set aside for expanding farm infrastructure. In negotiating for the Smith Farm, the Shermans agreed to convey a scenic easement on 270 acres of their farmlands, for which the Service paid the Shermans $85,000 in addition to conveying title to the Smith Farm. The arrangement kept the Smith Farm in agriculture and put the property back on the county tax rolls. [30] By 1984, three-quarters of the reserve centerpiece, Isaac Ebey's claim, was protected by scenic easements. [31]

The EBLA Land Protection Plan

With the Smith Farm secured, Harlan Hobbs could now turn his attention to other lands within the reserve. In 1982, a new Interior Department policy required land protection plans (LPPs) to be prepared for all NPS units containing private or non- federal land within their boundaries. The LPP for EBLA, which Jarvis and Hobbs prepared in 1984, listed the specific tracts of land to be protected within the reserve, the justification or reasons behind these decisions, and the methods with which the NPS regional lands division would acquire these rights. This phase of land protection planning initially involved no public participation, but EBLA's trust board members later offered suggestions and comments to the NPS. [32]

The goals and objectives stated in the EBLA comprehensive plan were broad enough to allow NPS discretion in its implementation. Therefore the LPP did not follow the comprehensive plan, with its list of eighteen priorities, item for item. Some of the areas listed in the comprehensive plan were beyond NPS scope, such as the town of Coupeville, which had its own protections in place. Areas such as Fort Ebey State Park or the scenic highways were either protected by other jurisdictions or were under no immediate threat. The NPS negotiated acquisitions on the basis of available funding, protections and controls already in place, and susceptibility to development. It concentrated on the vital "core zones" in the reserve, as described in the EBLA comprehensive plan, and it worked to acquire contiguous parcels in these zones. Four critical general areas, Hobbs and Jarvis concluded, required immediate attention. Listed by priority, they were: 1) Ebey's Prairie, 2) Keystone Spit-Crockett Lake Uplands, 3) the coastal strip from Fort Ebey to Fort Casey, and 4) Grasser's Hill and Lagoon. While the Service's primary means of land protection was the acquisition of scenic easements in critical areas identified in the EBLA comprehensive plan, it did attempt to purchase in fee-simple title small parcels for wayside exhibits. The EBLA interpretive prospectus, prepared in 1982 (discussed in Chapter Eight), described the wayside plan in detail. [33]

NPS policy requires that land protection plans be reviewed every two years. The LPP for EBLA was revised in 1990 to reflect changes in ownership and acreages that were omitted from the original plan. A few less significant tracts in the Crockett Lake/Keystone Spit area were relegated to a lower priority. At this writing, the trust board is reviewing the plan once more, reflecting its interest in protecting previously identified parcels and in providing lands for recreational needs such as trails. [34] Appendix Two (omitted from the on-line edition) is taken from the updated LPP and lists the NPS acquisition priorities for the reserve. The following sections describe acquisitions completed as of 1992.

Major Acquisitions

The sites identified for protection individually posed different challenges to Harlan Hobbs (who in 1984 became NPS regional chief of lands). While Grasser's Hill was unusable for agriculture and required a complex easement to protect the parcel's scenic qualities, the Smith Farm agreement was simpler to devise. Hobbs formulated and guided the process, working in tandem with Reed Jarvis. With only $1.9 million remaining at the beginning of 1984, they proceeded cautiously. [35] If a high-priority parcel was unavailable or priced too high, they moved on to a lower priority. In easement negotiations, they sometimes found themselves at a disadvantage, because landowners were aware of what they wanted and how much money they had to spend. Landowners could try to pressure the Park Service by announcing intentions to develop their land. One journalist observed that the "need to douse these brush fires has left the Park Service vulnerable to the charge of enriching speculators while depending on the goodwill of farmers for their land." [36] Yet the fact that the public knew the Service's intentions, and that it had no authority to condemn property, probably also made the NPS appear less threatening to the community. [37]

Priority I Acquisitions

A. Ebey's Prairie:

Although the coastal strip that included Ebey's Landing/Perego's Bluff and Lake and Hill Road was listed as the number one priority in the Citizens' Conceptual Plan, these areas were either already protected, unavailable because of unwilling sellers, or under less developmental threat than Ebey's Prairie. Thus Hobbs and Jarvis raised the prairie and adjacent lands to their top priority for acquisition of scenic easements.

The team informally evaluated this landscape using as primary control a viewpoint on the northwest ridge overlooking Ebey's Prairie. This spot was where a proposed wayside would be installed, near Sunnyside Cemetery. Facing east across the prairie, the order of priority for easements became the near foreground (the Smith Farm to Ebey's Landing), the middle ground (from Ebey's Landing Road to Engle Road, which was the boundary of Isaac Ebey's historic Donation Land Claim), and the background, which included lands immediately east of Engle Road. [38] Jarvis established a secondary viewpoint and landscape control facing west, at a roadside pull-off on the west side of Engle Road near the historic Jenne house. From there the sweep of the bluffs rated the highest in scenic value; the middle ground, including the Smith Farm and the Sherman Farm, was next in importance; and the broad view across the ridge beyond the Smith Farm rated third.

The major acquisitions under the priority one category, then, were the Sherman and Smith Farm easements, discussed earlier in this chapter. The NPS acquired the scenic easement on the Alan Hancock (1984) and Robert Hancock properties (1986), but, as of 1993, no agreements have been reached with either Burton Engle or Robert Pratt, the other property owners identified as first priority in the initial land protection plan.

B. Coastal Strip and Bluff:

The only private landowner in this area from whom the NPS has acquired an easement to date is Albert Heath. Heath's 125-acre parcel originally contained 3000 feet of waterfront and bluff. This land was located one-half mile northwest of Ebey's Prairie and one mile west of Coupeville, and stretched from the waterfront at Perego's Lagoon to State Highway 20.

As discussed in Chapter Four, Heath sold his beach property to the State in 1978. Although he moved to the mainland in the early 1980s, Heath remained concerned about the scenic beauty of the area. In 1983, for $100,000, he sold to the NPS the bluff portion of his property from the bluff trail to the tideline, as well as a scenic easement along a narrow fifty-foot strip northeast of the bluff trail. These two tracts amounted to around twenty-one acres. That same year Heath also granted an easement on a twenty-acre strip of land north of the bluff hiking trail to the Trust for Public Lands, which in 1986 conveyed its interest to the Whidbey-Camano Land Trust, a local nonprofit organization established in 1986. [39]

Heath decided to sell his remaining five ten-acre tracts. Four of these tracts fronted the bluff trail. After verbally agreeing to scenic restrictions on one tract, Heath sold it to Larry Hill, who built a house consistent with the terms of the agreement. To Heath, the house nonetheless intruded upon the landscape. On his other four tracts, therefore, Heath created and donated more stringent scenic easements to the Whidbey Camano Land Trust. These easements required anyone who built on the tracts to remain within a specific envelope where the building would be hidden from view, and restrictions on removing vegetation were also incorporated into the easement language. (See chapter nine for a discussion of monitoring these easements.)

One other small parcel in this area is worth mentioning. The Beppler family owned almost twenty acres of coastal bluff and forest just south of Fort Ebey State Park. Someday, it was hoped, the reserve hiking trail would cross their land. In 1985 the family volunteered to down-zone their "rural residential" land to "forest management" in exchange for the newly-available certificates for the transfer of development rights (TDRs). which they could then sell, according to the new Island County zoning code. After nearly a year's delay, the county ironed out a policy glitch and the Bepplers sold most of their development rights to a private individual. [40] This was one of the first attempts to apply the new TDR option in Island County.

C. Interpretive Sites:

The interpretive prospectus (1982) identified certain viewpoints as ideal for the installation of waysides. The Coupeville Wharf wayside was a top priority, and the first the NPS installed, and the town and port of Coupeville had given the NPS a fifty-year lease in October 1982. Therefore, to Hobbs and Jarvis, the next priorities for wayside site acquisition were on Ebey's Prairie. The NPS had retained a small portion of the Smith Farm for Cemetery Overlook. In 1984, the NPS also acquired 2.25 acres from the Sherman Farm for the Prairie Overlook on Engle Road. This, as Chapter Eight explains, the Service exchanged in 1990 for another, less visible, site on the Sherman Farm.

An additional interpretive site was added to this section of Priority One in 1990. This was the site of the new Island County museum. The trust board and the National Park Service helped locate the Island County Historical Society museum at Front and Alexander streets in Coupeville. This is a premium site directly across from the historic Coupeville wharf and an NPS interpretive kiosk. The property, adjacent to the Alexander blockhouse, had been put up for sale. Kris Ravetz, NPS ranger for EBLA (see Chapter Seven), was also a member of the historical society; she proposed that the NPS assist the historical society in acquiring the site. By purchasing a scenic easement on this lot, the Service reduced the cost of the property to the historical society. Furthermore, the easement assured that the open space from the blockhouse to the shore of Penn Cove would remain unobstructed. [41]

Through a cooperative agreement signed in 1989, the museum agreed to abide by NPS standards of construction, especially regarding handicap access, and provided room for a reserve exhibit and information table in exchange for NPS assistance in landscaping and site development. The museum also rented offices to the reserve trust board. This arrangement pleased both organizations; each recognized that the other was in the business of preserving and interpreting historical resources. [42]

Priority II Acquisitions

A. Grasser's Hill and Lagoon:

Penn Cove Associates, a Seattle-based investment partnership, purchased 225 acres on Grasser's Hill in 1969. The land was highly desirable real estate at the head of Penn Cove. The hilltop provided sweeping views of the cove, Saratoga Passage and the Cascades. At the base of the hill, separated by Route 20, lay a saltwater marsh called Grasser's Lagoon. Penn Cove Associates had long been interested in creating a marina at the lagoon, but such a project would involve extensive dredging, and was widely perceived as having severe environmental impacts. With a variety of development plans circulating, the group of developers announced in 1984 its plans to sell lots on Grasser's Hill.

Of course, these plans concerned the NPS. The EBLA comprehensive plan had identified Grasser's Hill and Lagoon as an important backdrop to Penn Cove. These areas had other resource values as well. As a saltwater marsh, the lagoon was a biologically productive mud flat which supported abundant shellfish and other wildlife. The hill contained patches of rare native Washington irises. In all likelihood, important archaeological sites lay hidden at the water's edge, since lands bordering the cove in the past had yielded burial sites, spearheads, shell middens, and other remnants of Native American life. The NPS and Penn Cove Associates could not agree on a price for the lagoon, but the owners were willing to sell the hill property, and negotiations for that began in earnest. [43]

Reed Jarvis and Harlan Hobbs stepped in to arrange an agreement with Penn Cove Associates that would satisfy the goals of the EBLA comprehensive plan and the National Park Service's need to establish a wayside exhibit in the area. The lengthy negotiations between NPS and Penn Cove Associates were protracted and somewhat strained. [44] Agreement over a price and conditions came slowly. Penn Cove Associates proposed to sell ten-acre lots across the hill in a patchwork of nineteen parcels across the hillside and rear portion. Instead, county planner Rob Harbour urged Penn Cove Associates to apply for five-acre short plats. His idea was to preserve the viewshed, keeping the slope open and undeveloped. Hobbs and Jarvis agreed; "in essence," said Jarvis, "we became developers." Cooperating on a new plan, the three men proposed to Penn Cove Associates that they reconfigure their lots to divide Grasser's Hill into thirty-six parcels of five acres each. This would partition the top of the hill, where houses were not visible from below, into standard lots. However, the portion of the hill visible from below would be platted differently. The lots here were redrawn to be long and narrow, running in strips that flowed from the top of the hill to the bottom. Houses would be placed at the top of each parcel, screened by the existing hedgerows and, for the most part, out of view from the highway below. Two lots at the base of the hill would place their structures near the periphery of the parcels. In order to determine where, specifically, the houses should be located, Hobbs and Jarvis set a fixed point at the base of the hill and across the highway from which no houses should be visible. They dubbed this Viewpoint X. [45] Landowners were to build according to guidelines established by the NPS, so that their houses could not be seen from Viewpoint X, and they must take other steps to screen structures to minimize their visual impact. [46] In December 1985, Penn Cove Associates entered into a final settlement with the Park Service. They accepted $325,000 for the development rights on fifty acres on the hillside, placing the above-mentioned development restrictions on 32 acres on the hilltop. [47]

In 1991, Penn Cove Associates once again placed Grasser's Lagoon on the market, espousing its value as a potential marina. The owners were asking $2 million for the land, and as of 1993 it remained for sale. The trust board has discussed raising the lagoon to a higher priority so that the NPS could request more funds for its purchase and put an end to the speculative marina development. [48]

B. Crockett Lake and Uplands:

Harlan Hobbs focused on the farmlands in the prairie north of Crockett Lake. Since houses were already on the eastern portion of these lands, he viewed that section as suitable for additional development. He and Jarvis again attempted to negotiate for properties that would be contiguous to one another. A large portion of the land in the prairie belonged to Irma Scholz, widow of Edgar Scholz. The NPS acquired easements for most of the land between Crockett Lake and Wanamaker Road, the least developed portion of the prairie. Several smaller, less crucial, tracts in this area were reassigned to the Priority IV acquisitions category in 1990, reflecting an increased concern for the prairie buffer.

In 1983, Hobbs and Jarvis began discussions with the attorney representing the Scholz family; it would take two years to complete an agreement for land north of the lake. In 1985, in its second major land acquisition on Whidbey Island, the Park Service purchased in fee-simple 166 acres of historic farmland north of Crockett Lake, as well as scenic easements on 93 additional acres, for $513,600. Following the pattern of land protection used on Ebey's Prairie, Hobbs retained a scenic easement and conveyed portions of the property to farmers Freeman Boyer, Steven Eggerman, and Robert A. Engle, Sr. In exchange, the NPS acquired scenic easements on land that these farmers owned in the uplands and elsewhere. These lands included portions of Boyer's farm north of Wanamaker Road (over 152 acres; easement acquired in the summer of 1989), Eggerman's farm (over 43 acres; easement acquired in the spring of 1991), and farmland that Robert Engle, Sr., owned in the Ebey's Prairie buffer zone (over 92 acres; easement acquired in the spring of 1990). [49]

As a condition of the Scholz acquisition, the Scholz family donated the northern half of Crockett Lake to Seattle Pacific University for its Camp Casey Campus. [50] Today the state park department owns most of the southern half.

Priority III Acquisitions

Little money has been available for most of the parcels in this category. No timber interests have been acquired as of 1993. The Park Service was able to acquire an easement on Ebey's Prairie "buffer" acreage owned by Robert Engle, Sr., as mentioned above, by trading land purchased in the Crockett Uplands for easements on Engle's farm. However, the NPS has been unable to reach agreement with Bill or Burton Engle for scenic easements on their lands. [51]

The major acquisition in this category was Keystone Spit. Securing Keystone Spit for the reserve once again required enormous creativity from the lands acquisition specialist. The spit was still in the hands of Irma Scholz and Bud Wagner, who intended to develop it.

In 1983, at Herb Pickard's and Reed Jarvis' invitation, U. S. Representative Al Swift visited the reserve. [52] Jarvis accompanied the congressman around the Crockett Uplands, Crockett Lake, and Keystone Spit. He told Swift that the NPS wanted to put what money remained after the Smith Farm sale into the Crockett viewshed, since the spit would be too expensive to protect. If the Park Service were going to ask for more money, Jarvis told Swift, it needed to be for something visible to the public. "Which can you more easily perceive," he asked, "a viewshed or a spit?" Swift replied that, of course, as a goal, the spit was easier to understand. 'That's why we're going to put the money into the viewshed," Jarvis quickly responded. In other words, acquisition of Keystone Spit would require more money than the EBLA land protection budget had left. If Congressman Swift must press for additional funding, a spit would be far likelier to capture public imagination than a "viewshed." Swift agreed that this made sense. [53]

Reed Jarvis and Harlan Hobbs were fortunate. As 1985 closed, they had no funds with which to protect Keystone Spit. They could not know, when they dedicated the bulk of the remaining reserve funds to the Crockett viewshed, that an opportunity for a unique land exchange involving Keystone Spit would arise. Harlan Hobbs largely formulated the Keystone agreement described below, with assistance from the state parks and recreation commission. It was accomplished through the efforts of environmental groups on Whidbey Island, U. S. Representative Swift, and Washington State Representative Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island) of the tenth district. [54]

Out on Keystone Spit, the two Dillingham Corporation homes still stood, forlorn and badly vandalized. Large chunks of concrete and standing rebars cluttered the grounds; campers had littered the area with trash and the remains of illegal fires. The tax rolls listed the land as unbuildable because of sewage disposal restrictions, although some people speculated that new technology would eventually overcome this obstacle. [55] Despite the land's limitations, Irma Scholz's attorney installed "for sale" signs on the spit at the end of 1986. Bud Wagner told reporters that he would begin developing in the fall of 1987, although he would like to sell to the NPS if it could pay a reasonable price. [56]

Public pressure mounted to do something fast. An editorial in a major Seattle daily, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, proclaimed that "someone--anyone--should ride to the rescue of Keystone Spit." [57] Several organizations and government agencies urged Washington State and the U. S. Congress to appropriate funds. [58]

A solution occurred to Harlan Hobbs as these events unfolded. In 1986, Congress adjusted the boundary of Olympic National Park to include 57 miles of tideland owned by the State of Washington along the western coast of the Olympic Peninsula. Hobbs, who was keenly aware of all land issues within the NPS Pacific Northwest Region, saw his opening. He proposed a three-way trade. Congress could appropriate money to acquire lands for Olympic National Park, the NPS could use the money to buy Keystone Spit, and then Washington State Parks could trade the Olympic beaches for Keystone Spit. The proposal drew immediate praise and support. [59]

The pieces fell into place with unusual speed. In early 1987, Representative Haugen introduced a bill to authorize the land exchange between the federal government and the State of Washington. The legislature rapidly approved the bill, which Governor Booth Gardner signed in May. Meanwhile, U. S. Representatives Swift and Norm Dicks (D-Bremerton), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, won the Committee's approval for the $2.1 million as part of a supplemental appropriations bill. President Ronald Reagan signed it in July 1987. [60]

The National Park Service now had $2.1 million to spend on Keystone Spit, but the land had been appraised at $2.6 million. The Scholz and Wagner families donated the difference. This gave the NPS 270 acres on the spit, including 7000 feet of Crockett Lake shoreline, 6400 feet of saltwater shoreline, and 200 acres of Crockett Lake beds. Only a small portion of the beach and upland between the south boundary of Fort Casey State Park and the west end of the spit remained in private ownership. [61]

By the end of 1987, Keystone Spit was "signed, sealed, and delivered." [2] In the spring of 1988, the formal transfer ceremony between the National Park Service and Washington State took place. State representative Haugen surprised the crowd by announcing that the legislature had budgeted $500,000 for additional land purchases on the west end of the spit, including an underwater park near the ferry landing. [63] A few months later, Island County Fire District Number Five practiced its fire-fighting skills by burning the two weathered Dillingham buildings to the ground. [64]

Today, the spit remains open for day recreational uses such as hiking and picnicking. In 1990, the state invited public comments on the spit's development. The majority of public opinion was to keep the eastern two-thirds of the spit in open space for public use and to protect plant and animal life. The Dillingham roads, they said, should also be removed, but the state lacked funds for this, and so they remain today. In 1992 the state purchased the last of Bud Wagner's holdings in Island County, located at the west end of the spit. The state now owns land near the ferry landing; of the twelve private lots north of Highway 20 near the restaurant, ten now belong to the state, as well as the two freshwater wells originally intended to serve the old Chicago and Brooklyn settlements. Washington State has worked to acquire private holdings at the western end of Keystone Spit and will continue to acquire the remaining holdings as they become available, including the small residential section. [65]

Acquisition Issues Today

Some questions regarding the future of lands under easement within the reserve remain unanswered. A number of people have wondered what will happen if future generations choose not to farm their inherited lands. Or what happens, Syd Glover posed recently, if salt water intrudes into wells on Ebey's Prairie? Will the land revert to Canadian thistles and stinging nettles? This report can offer no answer to such concerns. It can only note the immediate effect of purchasing easements. [66]

Development pressure will continue to arise in EBLA The Grasser's Hill negotiation illustrates the pressure that can be applied to the NPS to act quickly. A significant market developed for properties on the Hill, and the NPS was forced to take action to protect the scenic vista. County zoning regulations protecting resource lands have reduced this risk; however, there are still pockets of residentially zoned open spaces grandfathered into the reserve. In such a conflict, the county can enlist the State Environmental Protection Act to deny a potentially damaging project. But all such measures can go only so far in preventing development on private lands, and the county is naturally reluctant to become the nay-sayer limiting private commercial enterprise. Without NPS funds for acquisition of scenic easements, the government of Island County has no guarantee that the NPS will protect lands that the county cannot. It may feel that the NPS is not honoring its implied promise to assist owners of key properties who wish to develop or sell their land. Despite widespread support for the reserve, the land remains under constant challenge. "More money for acquisitions ... will be required," editorialized the Whidbey News-Times recently, "if the reserve is to live up to its billing and ensure that the National Park Service is able to meet the challenge it has set for itself." [67]

At the close of 1992, many important tracts within the reserve remained unprotected. In that year, U. S. Representative Al Swift introduced a bill for an appropriation of $2,000,000 for Fiscal Year 1993 to continue land protection within the reserve. As negotiations in the House subcommittees began, the original request was whittled down to $1,200,000, but even this reduced request failed to pass. Representative Norm Dicks has made acquisition funds for EBLA a priority for 1994. With funds now depleted for scenic easement acquisitions, the National Park Service is unable to meet the goals of the EBLA comprehensive plan and land protection plan. The trust board and the National Park Service continue to rely on the commitment of the community to safeguard the reserve's historic and natural resources, and on the efforts of local citizens and representatives to secure additional funds to preserve open, scenic, and historic parcels. But open spaces within the reserve remain vulnerable to development and subdivision. It is only a matter of time before a farmer or owner of an important scenic parcel or vista will feel financially compelled to develop his or her land. As has happened before, the National Park Service will have an emergency on its hands. The reserve's managers and many supporters, indeed, the landowners themselves, hope to avoid the kind of showdown that occurred on Ebey's Prairie. With visibility and support, this need not happen again.

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Last Updated: 27-May-2000