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

After a visit in 1986 to Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, the chief of interpretation for the NPS' Pacific Northwest region, David Pugh, commented that

the concept of a park area intended to preserve a cultural scene is difficult to grasp on site. The concept is understandable, but difficult to 'see,' and unfortunately, I believe most visitors expect to 'see' the park rather than only visit and see its individual pieces.

Consequently, Pugh noted, the greatest visitor need at EBLA was orientation and guidance through exhibits, hand-outs and brochures that would provide structure, direction, and a recommended route for visitors to travel in order to enjoy the resources of the reserve. The specialists who designed the reserve's interpretive program concurred wholeheartedly. A nontraditional area, EBLA would offer nontraditional means to enjoy the resource. Its interpretive materials and signs would be geared toward the self-motivated visitor.[1]

Stimulated by the unique challenge of interpreting a cultural landscape, the designers at the NPS Harpers Ferry Center in West Virginia created a unified system of exhibits and waysides to guide visitors through the reserve. Such panels were consistent with other NPS panels found throughout the national park system. At the beginning of 1993, seven interpretive pullouts or waysides and a total of 21 panels were in place within the reserve, with others scheduled for placement in both state parks and in the rest of the reserve. Still others await land acquisition funding before they can be installed on lands now privately owned. The program has been a cooperative effort among the governmental partners and others, including the Washington State Department of Transportation. The National Park Service is responsible for creating the waysides (although, in fact, the trust board became involved in designing and constructing them), but the EBLA trust board is responsible for maintaining them. The trust board has found additional partners within the community to assist with this program. By the beginning of 1991, all reserve waysides outside of the state parks were being maintained by volunteers from local community service organizations.

This chapter will discuss the interpretive programs that have been developed for the reserve. It provides an overview of EBLA's few visitor facilities and recreational opportunities. Installation of some interpretive waysides, such as those at Cemetery Overlook and the docks of the Washington State ferries, has been completed as specified in the EBLA wayside exhibit plan. Others, such as those at Fort Ebey State Park, eventually will be completed as the exhibit plan envisioned. This report does not discuss in detail those sites that have proceeded or are proceeding as planned, since this would duplicate information available in the wayside exhibit plan. The goal of this discussion is to note what has been accomplished and to explain why certain exhibits have been modified, eliminated, or added to the program.

EBLA Interpretive Prospectus

In August 1981, Larry Tillman, interpretation specialist, and Ray Price, chief of wayside exhibits, both from the NPS interpretive design center at Harpers Ferry, toured the reserve with regional chief of interpretation Rocky Richardson and Reed Jarvis. They were part of a team that would study the area and prepare a prospectus for its interpretation and interpretive facilities. [2]

The team was aware that the method of interpretation in the reserve would not be the traditional means used throughout the national park system. Interpretation would not highlight individual structures and landmarks, but would focus on the cultural landscape as a whole system of interrelated parts. [3] The interpretive prospectus, which they prepared in the fall of 1981, noted that the NPS had no plans for a visitor center, exhibit rooms, amphitheaters, and other traditional interpretive facilities for the reserve. Nor would it acquire any historic structures, or staff the area with the usual NPS park technicians. Visitors would gain an understanding of the reserve primarily through interpretive waysides, which would be organized around themes drawn from the EBLA comprehensive plan. It was envisioned that the reserve would be a self-guided place for the self-motivated visitor. [4]

The interpretive prospectus identified sixteen sites for wayside exhibits, with a total of thirty-two panels. The National Park Service traditionally tried to reach as many incoming visitors as possible. Its immediate goal in the reserve, or Phase I, was to erect waysides in three key areas--Coupeville Wharf; Ebey's Landing; and the U. S. Navy Outlying Field (OLF), which lay near the primary southern entrance to the reserve. All but the Ebey's Landing site, which was privately owned, were on public property, and required only cooperative agreements between the partners in order for the waysides to be installed.

In addition to the panels, the NPS would publish a reserve brochure. The interpretive prospectus recommended that the EBLA brochure be organized around the four historical themes described in the enabling legislation. Phase I also called for a driving/bicycling tour (a walking tour of historic Coupeville was already available through the Island County Historical Society). It also suggested the recording of oral histories, in order to document the experiences of descendants of the early settlers. The tours and oral histories were moved to the back burner as funds and work time proved scarce, and to date have not been completed. [5]

Phase II of the interpretive prospectus recommended thirteen waysides at other key viewing or entrance points, as well as a traditional NPS "park handbook" and a variety of posters, charts, and "theme" publications. The interpretive panels would orient the visitor to the reserve and describe specific aspects of local geography and history. Their locations were to be as follows:

  1. Admiralty Inlet Overlook on Hill Road (near Camp Casey Campus)
  2. Fort Casey State Park
  3. Grasser's Hill and Lagoon
  4. Bluff Trail Overlook (at the top of the bluff beyond the state park boundary)
  5. Bluff Trailhead (on Ebey's Landing State Beach)
  6. Ebey's Prairie pulloff (referred to informally for a time as the "Engle Road Wayside" and now called the "Prairie Wayside")
  7. Ebey's Prairie Overlook, across the road from Sunnyside Cemetery (now also referred to as the "Cemetery Overlook")
  8. Monroe's Landing
  9. Crockett Blockhouse near Crockett Lake
  10. Fort Ebey State Park
  11. Port Townsend-Keystone ferry
  12. Crockett Lake, along Ft. Casey Road south of Wanamaker Road
  13. Mukilteo-Clinton ferry

While the Harpers Ferry Center fashioned some preliminary designs for the wayside exhibits, EBLA ranger Kris Ravetz gathered background information for a reserve brochure and launched a campaign of public outreach and education.

The EBLA Brochure

Glenn Hinsdale, interpretive specialist in the NPS regional office, composed a brochure prototype from materials that he and Ravetz assembled. One side of the brochure was a chronological history; the other provided a guide to major features within the reserve. Cast in sepia hues, historical photographs of settlers and the bustling life of early central Whidbey Island dominated the folder. A lengthy chronology of historical trends culminated in the observation that what made the area remarkable was that "changes occurred without the disconjuncts or fabric tears that so often mar the integrity of a community." Hinsdale provided a detailed brochure at Reed Jarvis' request, because so little material about the reserve was available in print. It was generally believed that this would be the only opportunity to get a brochure printed, and extensive detail seemed necessary. Hinsdale contracted with a local printer to produce the brochure in 1983, using regional NPS funds. [6]

Kris Ravetz enlisted local businesses to stock brochures where their customers could see them. The trust board continued this practice after it formed in 1985, distributing folders throughout Whidbey Island. In this manner, each cooperating business substituted for the traditional NPS visitor information center. Such participation, it was hoped, would contribute to the personal commitment of local entrepreneurs to the success of the reserve. [7]

Early Public Education and Outreach

Reed Jarvis and Kris Ravetz sought a variety of ways to inform the public about the reserve. In 1981, they held a workshop for locals on owning and maintaining historic buildings. [8] Ravetz conducted off-site talks and guided tours, and answered myriad written inquiries about the reserve. Her membership in the Island County Historical Society, an organization sustained in part by some of Island County's oldest families, gained the reserve an important ally.

In 1983, NPS historian Gretchen Luxenberg and historical landscape architect Cathy Gilbert of the regional cultural resources division conducted a survey of historic structures predating World War II, while simultaneously documenting the cultural landscape (this work is described in Chapter Nine). Throughout the summer, public meetings revealed that many residents of the reserve were unaware of the reserve or uncertain of what it meant to live within its boundaries. Consequently, the NPS published Ebey's Landing: The Land, The People, The Place, geared toward informing local residents about the reserve and its resources. The Service distributed copies widely in central Whidbey Island, especially to owners of contributing structures. The NPS sponsored three such publications regarding the preservation of historic buildings and landscapes, helping to increase local awareness of the significance of the reserve's historic and natural resources, as well as the Park Service's mission at the reserve.

Interpretive Panels

By July 1985, the Harpers Ferry Center division of wayside exhibits completed a wayside exhibit plan. It recommended a total of 37 signs to present the major natural and cultural themes of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve. These topics ranged from early Native American life to the variety of ships that pass through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Several of these signs, placed at main reserve access points and areas of visitor concentration, would substitute for entrance stations.

The unique interpretive challenge of EBLA was to focus on patterns and relationships rather than particular structures or natural features. The Harpers Ferry team members developed some basic questions that they wanted the visitor to ask themselves, perhaps unconsciously, such as: How does what I see here fit into the whole landscape? What is the relationship between the developed areas and the open space? The team planned the exhibits so that they gave a complete understanding of the area through a progression of ideas. Interpretive materials and facilities were interrelated and complementary. The exhibits were pieces of text that, collectively, would constitute a complete story. Each site, they concluded, should be carefully chosen to tell the appropriate piece of that story. (However, planners and managers recognized that visitors would arrive from different directions, and decided that some of the important messages should be repeated in places.) [9]

First Wayside Installed: Coupeville Wharf Kiosk

The interpretive kiosk on the Coupeville waterfront was EBLA's first wayside, and the only one in Phase I developed as projected. In October 1982, the NPS leased the site on Coupeville Wharf for fifty years from the Port of Coupeville. Sid Malbon, a landscape architect in the NPS regional office, provided the landscape design for the site. He designed a public bulletin board kiosk to encircle and mask a tall vent for fuel tanks that lay underneath the wharf, and a companion kiosk for reserve information. Situated at the entrance to the popular Coupeville Wharf, this central point attracted a large number of visitors, especially during annual events such as the arts and crafts fair and the recently revived water festival. [10]

Completion of the other projects was several years away, however. Only in the late 1980s did the wayside exhibit plan truly accelerate. In the meantime, the trust board pressed the NPS to rethink some of its exhibit proposals.

The Trust Board Modifies Wayside Program

The interpretive program at the reserve did not develop exactly as put forth in the interpretive prospectus. The trust board raised few objections, at first, to the interpretive plan, but as it gained experience, it modified or eliminated some exhibits it now believed to be inappropriate for the reserve.

A variety of motivations compelled these changes. Safety was one consideration, as the board reviewed the placement of particular waysides. In addition, some on the board began to perceive that the traditional Park Service mission to inform and guide the visitor, with its supporting ranks of signs and pullouts, might be excessive for a historical reserve. This reflected, in part, a private reluctance among some members to "over-advertise" the reserve as a tourist playground. More compelling, however, was the desire to keep the landscape uncluttered and to avoid disruption of the daily lives of the inhabitants. Because the trust board members lived in the local community, they were conscious of the potential impact of directing tourist traffic to certain locations. For example, they debated whether the placement of waysides should encourage visitors to leave their cars and plunge into the countryside, and they balanced this against their desire to minimize the impact on the environment. Moreover, their knowledge of the land often gave them special insight into the best locations for waysides. The trust board was sensitive to the fact that the signs and exhibits were in their own backyards, and they wanted to be careful about quality and visual impact. The pace of facility development set the pace of wayside placement. If there were few facilities, such as finished trails or pullouts, there were few needs for waysides. Unlike traditional parks, the managers of EBLA tried to place most exhibits on property belonging to one of the reserve partners--the town, county, or state government lands. Each agency had its own standards. As the NPS acquired additional easements or signed cooperative agreements with its partners, the wayside exhibit plan adjusted to them. [11]

Since the schedule of site development and exact location was uncertain, signing and interpretation needed to be general enough to fit a variety of locations. Neither the NPS nor the trust board wanted to invest in expensive waysides that rapidly became obsolete. Go slower, some of them told the National Park Service, and produce a better product.

And indeed the Service did proceed slowly. At the end of 1988, ten years after the reserve was established, only the Coupeville Wharf wayside was in place. In part this was due to funding difficulties. Sometimes the NPS viewed reserve programs as a low priority. [12] And at times the trust board itself had mixed opinions about individual exhibits. Members could be both frustrated by the lack of consistent NPS support for facilities, and dissatisfied with some of the waysides produced. Their concerns and needs, along with those of NPS regional office staff, resulted in Harpers Ferry Center modification of pieces of the EBLA interpretive program.

Additional Wayside Exhibit Plans and Visual Compatibility Guidelines

After Harpers Ferry produced the initial wayside plan, the National Park Service produced an analysis of the types of materials and settings most appropriate for use in EBLA. It also updated the wayside plan. In 1987, landscape architects Linda Hugie and Terri Taylor, of the NPS regional maintenance division, prepared visual compatibility guidelines for the reserve. Their purpose was to provide recommendations for designing visually compatible waysides, viewing platforms, and other development-related facilities such as fences, posts and bike racks. These guidelines are particularly important for the reserve because they provide the information necessary to develop these facilities with the least amount of impact--visual and physical--to the cultural landscape.

In the late 1980s, NPS Project Manager Cindy Orlando accelerated the pace of the wayside program. In May 1990, Harpers Ferry printed a new wayside exhibit plan that Glen Hinsdale and the trust board had revised. Several wayside panels were delivered by 1990, including those at the Crockett blockhouse, Fort Ebey State Park, Port Townsend, Ebey's Landing (on the state beach), and the Bluff Trail. Crews from the North Cascades National Park maintenance division, and the Youth Conservation Corps, the Naval Air Station in Oak Harbor, and Island County's roads and parks departments all provided labor in various capacities; Seattle Pacific University helped by providing housing while the crews completed their work. The North Cascades crew installed a greatly modified sign in 1991 at Monroe's Landing, and the Prairie Wayside on Engle Road, and two entrance signs, were erected in 1992. Some waysides that differ significantly from the initial interpretive prospectus, or that were eliminated or added to the overall program, are discussed below.

Original Ebey's Landing Wayside Eliminated

The interpretive team hoped to place a kiosk to the south of Ebey's Landing state beach, on tideland owned by Robert Pratt. This was called the "Ebey's Landing cluster" in the interpretive prospectus. After it became clear that Pratt would not permit the National Park Service access to his land, the NPS dropped the site in 1988. Instead of two interpretive sites on the beach, therefore, only one would be installed, at the trailhead to the Bluff Trail. Washington State already owned the beach and was willing to locate the wayside on the site, as it would enhance the state's interpretive program. [13]

Bluff Trail Overlook

The Bluff Trail overlook was proposed for siting on Robert Pratt's coastal land to the north of Ebey's landing, but, as stated above, Pratt was uninterested in selling an easement. In 1990, the trust board placed a wayside at the intersection of the Ridge Trail, which began at the Cemetery Overlook, and the Bluff Trail. This was a new wayside added to the program by the board once it decided to create the trail. [14]

Monroe's Landing Wayside

To install the wayside on this county-owned land, only a cooperative agreement between NPS and Island County was required. This particular panel underwent extensive review by a number of parties because of its content. The proposed exhibit, entitled "Skagit/ A Beleaguered Society," focused on the threat to local Skagits by Haida raiders in the past. After careful consideration, the panel was reworded to focus on the richness and unique character of local Salish life. [15]

In 1986, Dick Hoffman reconsidered this site as an interpretive wayside. The area seemed little used, except by locals as a boat launch. Knowledgeable locals, he said, also feared that marking the spot would lead to increased "pot-hunting" on a known American Indian site. But NPS regional archeologist Jim Thomson pointed out that the site was already well-known to such people. By 1991 the NPS, with the help of the county parks and roads departments, had formalized the landing area, installed bollards, and placed the wayside. What had once been a county road end was transformed into a small but scenic pullout and beach access. [16]

Crockett Blockhouse

Island County owned the Crockett blockhouse and the small pullout in front of it, and private landowner Bob Whitlow owned the land adjacent to it. Reed Jarvis originally envisioned a parking area across the road, a small distance from the blockhouse. This would require purchasing access across the land from Whitlow and one other private landowner. His idea was that visitors could "shed the twentieth century" as they followed a path through a hedgerow to the site. Although Whitlow was amenable to the idea, Dick Hoffman scaled this plan back to eliminate the need to acquire access. [17] In 1990, the county installed a wayside panel in front of the blockhouse. The revised EBLA land protection plan of 1990 added Whitlow's ten acres to its wish list of scenic easements, primarily to keep the viewshed permanently unobstructed. [18]

Admiralty Inlet Overlook

This site, situated on the Camp Casey Campus, raised an unexpected problem. The property contained a population of the endangered Golden Paintbrush (see Chapter Nine). Both The Nature Conservancy and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources objected to the proposed location of the wayside. Therefore, Jarvis and Hobbs suggested in 1986 that it be relocated onto Burton Engle's property along Hill Road. [19] They anticipated purchasing the site on Engle's land as part of a package deal involving his entire property.

However, Burton Engle was not interested in negotiating with the National Park Service for scenic easements or public rights-of-way. In addition, the trust board members differed over changes proposed to accommodate traffic in the proposed area. Contemplating safety hazards for visitors, Dick Hoffman suggested making Hill Road one-way. But trust board members agreed with Wilbur Bishop that redirecting traffic would inconvenience members of the community. They also wished to keep the site inconspicuous. The board rejected the one-way road proposal and reduced the size of the parking area, recommending "a minimum amount of signs and a minimum amount of anything to call attention to it." If the NPS purchased the site, though, the trust board would consider establishing a footpath to the bluff. [20]

U. S. Navy Outlying Field

The Navy's Outlying Field (OLF) on Smith Prairie lies near Highway 20 at the southeastern entrance to the reserve. It includes a practice landing area the size and shape of an aircraft carrier deck. During the comprehensive planning stage of 1978-1980, Reed Jarvis and the citizen's advisory committee identified Smith Prairie as an important entrance point to the reserve. It was the first major open space visible upon entering the reserve from the south. In his early reflections upon the site, Jarvis speculated that it might be appropriate for a seasonally staffed information or orientation station to be located in this vicinity. A few years later he had scaled his expectations back, but still hoped to install a viewing platform and exhibits near the OLF that discussed naval aviation. Jarvis believed that airplanes and national defense were, like the historical forts, a part of the story of central Whidbey Island. [21]

In 1983, Jarvis entered negotiations with the commander of the Naval Air Station in Oak Harbor. Commanding Officer S. D. Langdon agreed to a wayside observation station at the landing strip, provided that the Navy retain the land and the National Park Service maintained the site.

Despite the accord between the two agencies, the project drifted. By 1987, a majority of the trust board believed that the site did not fit in with the historic setting of the reserve. Noisy practice runs at the OLF were controversial within the community, and some thought that a wayside might be vandalized. The trust board put the project on hold indefinitely. In November 1988, Dick Hoffman, who had been unenthusiastic about the wayside, deleted the OLF from the plans due to Navy budget problems and Navy "disinterest." But by this time the disinterest was universal. [22]

Grasser's Hill

When Reed Jarvis and Harlan Hobbs considered protecting the Grasser's Hill viewshed, they sought a spot off of Highway 20, west of the intersection with Madrona Way, from which a visitor could survey the full viewshed. A suitable spot, which they labelled Viewpoint X, was on the state highway right-of-way adjacent to the Grasser family land (Viewpoint X was also used to orient visual zones on the hill for scenic easement purposes). Although not specified in the interpretive prospectus, Jarvis decided that the wayside would be located at Viewpoint X, where access off the highway was easy. But the highway created a potentially dangerous situation for any visitors who pulled off the highway and into the wayside. Dick Hoffman and the trust board proposed relocating the site to Madrona Way, also on Grasser family land, where the slower speed of traffic would be safer for cars pulling off the road. Some Grasser family members have expressed an interest in working with the NPS to sell an easement. Meanwhile, the Harpers Ferry Center has prepared a panel, which is ready for installation once all parties agree to a site.

Prairie Wayside

The NPS purchased 2.25 acres of the Sherman Farm in 1984 adjacent to a straight, open stretch of Engle Road in hopes of developing a scenic pull-out for viewing the prairie. State funding that had appeared forthcoming for road work at the site vanished in the mid-1980s, and, together with a lack of NPS funding, this delayed construction of the pull-out. With time to reconsider, the trust board decided that the location would not only take valuable agricultural land out of production--land that the trust board and the NPS were trying to preserve--but it would leave an asphalt scar visible from many points of view. Instead, the NPS exchanged the land with the Shermans in 1990 for three acres of woodlot on a nearby curve of Engle Road near Hill Road. At the trust board's request, NPS downscaled the wayside to reduce visual impact, and screened it from view using the natural vegetation. They also moved the kiosk away from the parking spaces to draw visitors out of their cars. This, they felt, would bring them closer to the land. [23]

The Prairie Wayside was a cooperative effort between the Island County road department, the U. S. Navy Engineering Group at NAS Whidbey (the SeaBees), the YCC and maintenance crew from North Cascades National Park (led by NPS maintenance foreman Jeff Harsha), and the trust board. In September 1990, the two crews cleared and graded a site inside the copse for a small parking lot, returning periodically until they completed the wayside in 1992. At the trust board's instructions, they eliminated a planned viewing platform from the design but retained the kiosk. The crews placed a bench outside of the lot facing the cornfields. A short trail skirted the edge of the field to the north, terminating at another bench for viewing and resting. [24] Completion of the wayside was celebrated during an "open house" in the reserve for the local community, sponsored by the trust board in the fall of 1992.

Island County Historical Society Museum

In 1992, the Island County Historical Society completed a new museum building between the Alexander blockhouse and the Coupeville wharf. The new building is also home to the trust board, which leases office space and museum floor space for a reserve exhibit and literature. A cooperative agreement between the NPS and the historical society provides for the placement of a reserve panel on the porch of the museum. This "wayside" interprets the cove and historic Coupeville. The historical society operates a small gift shop which sells books related to the reserve. Because the museum serves as a reserve visitor center plans are underway to redesign the exhibit so that visitors encounter it immediately upon entering the museum and thus may avoid paying a museum entrance fee. [25]

Scenic Routes and Entrance Signs

After a fourteen-year delay, the reserve finally received and installed entrance signs in 1992. Many trust board members had urged this for years, believing that local citizens, as well as visitors, should be able to see the physical extent of the reserve. For people entering the reserve from the south on Highway 525, the trust board placed an entrance sign in the heart of Smith Prairie. The board sited the northern entrance sign on land owned by the San de Fuca Community Church. Additional signs have been planned for secondary entrances. Island County has installed some scenic route signs in places within the reserve, and the EBLA trust board would like to create special signs with the EBLA logo to follow its own scenic route, a driving/bicycling tour route designed specifically for the reserve. The trust board will work closely with the town of Coupeville and the county in order to have one designated and signed scenic route throughout the reserve. [26]

Recent Public Education and Outreach

The EBLA trust board hosted a variety of conferences, workshops, and public events, including the "open house" in the fall of 1992, during which trust board members greeted visitors and members of the community at several of the reserve's waysides. In 1991, Coupeville school district superintendent Dr. Ernie Bartleson, working with trust board member and school teacher Mark Gale, funded the development of a curriculum project regarding the reserve. "Videocast" of south Whidbey Island produced a video about EBLA for visitors to the museum. The board has hosted a number of tours for local realtors, bed-and-breakfast owners, chambers of commerce, and so forth, in an effort to educate the various special interest groups operating in or near the reserve. [27]

After several years' experience, the trust board felt that visitors and locals needed a more thorough explanation of the purpose and guiding philosophy of a reserve than the NPS brochure offered. It developed a complementary folder in 1989. The folder offered some suggestions on what to do in the reserve and stressed the fact that most of the land in EBLA was private property. The NPS "park handbook" and the posters, charts and "theme" publications recommended by the interpretive prospectus have yet to materialize. These await funds and opportunity. Trust board chair Pat Howell would like to update the NPS brochure to better reflect the more recent history of the community; a new park brochure is currently in production.28

Today, the trust board is in the initial stages of developing a driving tour, planned for 1993. It also began a newsletter in the fall of 1992 entitled Particular Friend. The board has compiled a list of "friends" of the reserve, who all receive copies of the quarterly publication. [28]

EBLA Trails

The other important facilities which the reserve manages are trails. The main trails in EBLA are the old Bluff Trail along the west coast of central Whidbey Island (a former sheep trail) and the newer Ridge Trail, which connects Sunnyside Cemetery to the bluff across the Sherman Farm. The following provides a brief history of past and proposed trail development within the reserve. Former regional lands acquisition chief Harlan Hobbs recalled that members of the Scholz family, as well as the early EBLA trust board, expressed interest in a trail for hikers and horses along Crockett Lake. Upon reflection, Hobbs and project manager Hoffman felt that this appeared to be a poor site for a trail.

The Bluff Trail

The EBLA comprehensive plan urged that the Bluff Trail be extended from Fort Casey to Fort Ebey. Currently, it runs only about two miles along the western coast of Whidbey Island, from Ebey's Landing to Perego's Lake. However, hikers often travel beyond this length, and have been doing so for decades, traversing private property.

Washington State owns the trailhead to the Bluff Trail at the beach on Ebey's Landing. After the state acquired the beach from the Smith family and Bud Wagner, it built a small parking lot, a short bridge and a stairway at the entrance to the Bluff Trail. The trail climbs to the top of the bluff and follows the edge until it drops back down to the beach at Perego's Lake.

Legally, the public may traverse the Bluff Trail from Ebey's Landing, along the width of the Sherman Farm, to where it meets the Ridge Trail that connects to the Cemetery Overlook. But the trail continues across Robert Pratt's property, which has no easement (a sign informs hikers that they are exiting the official portion of the EBLA trail), and along the southern 2,400 feet of Albert Heath's former estate, which does have an easement. Except for a small portion of the Heath estate and a short span across Pondilla Estates, Washington State owns the remainder of the trail north to Fort Ebey State Park. The private landowners have voluntarily permitted the public to continue on the trail where it crosses their lands, but the trust board continues to work toward more binding assurances of public access.

Most of the bluffs south of Ebey's Landing have no public rights-of-way. However, people do hike the length of the beach south to Fort Casey State Park. Seattle Pacific University owns the beach along its Camp Casey, and the college permits public access as long as people do not enter the campus grounds. Generally, there have been no complaints about such use of private lands. (Public tidelands are more extensive north of Ebey's Landing.)

Gaps in public ownership have delayed the construction of the eight-mile coast trail recommended in the EBLA comprehensive plan. Fearing legal consequences, Dick Hoffman halted trail improvements begun by a YCC crew near the Pratt property in 1988. He also suspended NPS discussions of an upper pull-off near the beach, due to its likely visual intrusion on Ebey's Prairie. [29] In 1992, Rob Harbour and Gretchen Luxenberg met with Doug Shepard of Pondilla Estates, who had expressed interest in creating an upland trail across his land from Lake Pondilla to Partridge Point. Perego's Lake residents occasionally complain about damage to their bluffs. Until recently, some hikers, when they reached the end of the trail at Perego's Lake, did not turn around, but walked straight down the fragile hillside, causing erosion and plant damage. To solve this problem, the trust board placed a sign warning hikers that the trail would end soon, and directed them to a trail down to the beach. [30]

The Ridge Trail

During the comprehensive planning stage it became apparent that the idea of a trail system in EBLA was disturbing to some landowners, especially farmers who feared their crops would be trampled. Therefore, Reed Jarvis avoided recommending any trails other than the coast trail. He hoped to raise the topic at a later time, because his immediate priority lay in convincing the farmers first to accept the overall reserve concept as a means of protecting heritage lands. The comprehensive plan therefore recommended trail construction only along the coast from Fort Casey to Fort Ebey. [31]

A logical extension of the trail system did soon occur to Jarvis, as well as some of the trust board members, however. Both Reed Jarvis and Herb Pickard visited England separately in the early 1980s. Pickard witnessed for himself the extensive trail system in England and returned intrigued by the English concept of the "right to roam." [32] Pickard proposed in 1985 that the trust board build a trail which would begin at the Cemetery Overlook, cross the Sherman farm along the northwest ridge, and connect with the Bluff Trail.

The Sherman family was enthusiastic about the idea. The average public, said Roger Sherman, had not been able to enjoy the beauty and history of the area except in Coupeville and through printed material. His farm had not experienced public intrusions from the Bluff Trail. Wilbur Bishop, part owner of Sherman Farms and a member of the trust board, endorsed the idea of an experimental trail. If hikers littered the trail or trespassed on private property to an unacceptable degree, public use would be discontinued. The family agreed to a one-year trial. [33]

Bishop took personal charge of the project. For one section of the trail, he obtained Roberta Smith Haeger's permission for access to the road leading to her driveway. [34] In February 1987, the county approved the trail, as well as construction of the Cemetery Wayside. Completed by an NPS Youth Conservation Corps crew in 1987, the trail traversed the agricultural fields for more than a mile, intersecting the state trail along the bluff above Ebey's Landing.

The trust board is encouraged by its experience with the Bluff and Ridge Trails. Both have been used steadily since their development, and the Smith, Sherman and Bishop families happily report that they have experienced little in the way of public trespass. A dog may occasionally run off leash, but people understand and respect the property rights of the landowners. [35]

Other Concerns and Proposals

The trust board envisions a reserve-wide trail linking special areas within the reserve together. This is a long-term goal which requires land acquisition funding in order to purchase land in fee or easements providing access. In early 1990, retired NPS landscape architect Jim Howe, a Coupeville resident, volunteered to develop a conceptual trail plan for the trust board. There have also been recent discussions on linking the trail system with a trail that has been proposed to run the length of Whidbey Island.

Programs for interpretation ad visitor facilities are still in transition at Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve. In addition to its own facilities and materials, the trust board relies on walking tours and other programs prepared by the town of Coupeville and the managers of the two state parks. As in all of the reserve's programs, limited staffing ad budget constraints dictate the pace of program development. Enthusiasm remains high for such facilities, however, and the trust board continues to plan, with the NPS and the community, for future recreational and educational opportunities.

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Last Updated: 27-May-2000