The mermaid sculpture in downtown Oak Harbor should be enjoying a better view soon once a proposal to allow artists to paint fire hydrants along Pioneer Way gets off the ground. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

Oak Harbor might turn artists loose on fire hydrants

Although its role is integral in helping firefighters protect communities, a fire hydrant generally doesn’t draw much attention in a cityscape.

Short and stubby, a fire hydrant is frequently ignored and sometimes worse — its greatest indignity coming from frequent four-legged visitors.

All of this could be changing soon in Oak Harbor, where fire hydrants might be seen in a whole new light.

The city is exploring a proposal by Councilwoman Tara Hizon to allow artists in the community to adopt hydrants primarily along Pioneer Way and paint them with creative flair.

Hizon presented the idea to the Oak Harbor Arts Commission this winter, calling for a program in which individuals or groups could adopt a hydrant and bring each of them to life.

The idea has been warmly received so far, including an endorsement from Ray Merrill, the city’s fire chief.

“I think it’s good,” Merrill said. “You take a plain old yellow-looking fire hydrant and make it look nice. It would be interesting to see what designs people come up with. If they are as artistic as the people who do Whidbey Rocks, they’re going to rock.”

Turning fire hydrants into works of art has been done in communities in other parts of the country, even in Kenmore in King County.

Hizon couldn’t remember where she saw them but was struck by the possibilities back home.

“It was so interesting that I did a little research and found out how cities made that happen,” she said. “I thought, ‘What a neat idea.’ It’s dynamic. It will always be changing. It’s inexpensive. And we have so many talented people in our community.”

City planner Cac Kamak said he’s working with the Arts Commission to develop a program for implementation. He said the idea was brought to the council at a recent workshop and there were no objections. Ultimately, the council would have to approve a resolution once all the groundwork is laid out, he said.

“Probably we will do a test sample of painting one or two fire hydrants to see what it takes,” Kamak said.

Kamak said there are still many particulars to sort out from the type of paint that could be used to designs allowed. He said he is still in the early stages of establishing criteria and guidelines.

“We don’t want it to be another sign,” he said.

By this spring, a test hydrant or two could be sporting a whole new look, Kamak said, adding that the program could launch as early as this summer.

There are more than 20 hydrants along Pioneer Way between State Highway 20 and Bayshore Drive, Merrill said.

“I just think it would be colorful and would be unexpected and the best part is it will showcase local talent,” Hizon said. “People will be able to drive by and say, ‘I did that.’”

A jogger passes a fire hydrant along Pioneer Way in historic downtown Oak Harbor Monday. The city is considering allowing artists to paint the hydrants along Pioneer Way. Photo by Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

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