Wonders of Whidbey

"“Going to the lighthouse is like looking through a window into the past,” Lighthouse Society member Marshall Bronson says. “It’s a great opportunity to learn about the history of the island.”On Saturday, Bronson is leading a tour of the 98-year-old Admiralty Head Lighthouse as part of the Beach Watchers “Wonders of Whidbey” field seminar. Combined with a stroll through Fort Casey with Beach Watcher and tour guide Bill Blair, the tour will give visitors a detailed, historical account of life at the lighthouse and Fort Casey and amaze them with breathtaking views.From the top of the black, spiral staircase in the tower, field trippers can see Admiralty Inlet, the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan De Fuca.Along with the beautiful scenery, the tour gives guests an in-depth glimpse into the past. In 1860, the first lighthouse on Whidbey Island, and the first wood- frame lighthouse in the West, was built on Red Bluff, which is now known as Admiralty Head, Bronson said. Eventually, it was dismantled to make room for guns and soldiers at Fort Casey, and some of the wood was incorporated into a local barn. During the Spanish-American War era in the 1890s, the army built Fort Casey at Admiralty Head, Fort Worden near Port Townsend and Fort Flagler at Marrowstone Island to form the “Triangle of Fire.” Though they never saw war-time action, the forts guarded the entrance to Admiralty Inlet and protected prime Puget Sound targets such as the Bremerton Naval Shipyard, Everett, Seattle and Tacoma. In 1902, the Army Corps of Engineers built the Admiralty Head Lighthouse out of brick walls 18 inches thick. They constructed the two-story Spanish style lightkeeper’s house only a few feet lower than the tower, which stands 127 feet above sea level. Lighthouses were also built at Marrowstone Head at Fort Flagler and Point Wilson at Fort Worden.Mariners used the three lighthouses to guide their passage through Admiralty Inlet on the way to southern Puget Sound. “In the early days of Puget Sound, everything was done by boat,” Bronson said. During the day, lightkeepers had to clean and polish the light and maintain the wick and kerosene level. At night, they had to light the lantern and make sure a weight, which turned the lantern with aid of gravity, was slowly dropping from the top of the tower. Lightkeeper’s families were expected to take on the lighthouse duties when he was sick.“The lighthouse keeping job was a very important political appointment,” Bronson said. In the 1870s a lighthouse keeper received $1,000 a year and the assistant made $625.In those days, Whidbey Island didn’t have many inhabitants, and lightkeepers and their families passed the time by maintaining gardens, making jelly and trying to keep busy.“At most times, lighthouses were a very lonely place,” Bronson said.Changes in channels and shipping lanes combined with the advent of steam and diesel engines made the Admiralty Head Lighthouse obsolete in the 1920s. Sailboats had to tack back and forth through the inlet when the wind wasn’t blowing south, but steam and diesel powered boats could cruise through the deeper west side of the channel without the aid of the Admiralty Head Lighthouse. On July 1, 1922, the lantern was removed, and in 1927 the lantern was moved to the Dungeness Lighthouse near Sequim, where it’s still in use today. The army used the building for various training and housing purposes until after World War II, when it was abandoned. The building sat vacant and vandalized until Seattle Pacific University bought 87 acres and the State Parks and Recreation Commission acquired 100 acres of battery area and restored the Admiralty Head Lighthouse as an interpretive park for public use.-----------------New Beach Watchers Program Coordinator Helping create the “Wonders of Whidbey” field seminar is just the beginning for Sarah Schmidt, program coordinator for Beach Watchers, a cooperative extension program between Washington State University and Island County.“I find it really exciting to be involved with a program that educates people to make their own decisions about what affects the environment,” she said. Schmidt, who took the position May 1 after Susan Berta left, hopes to keep the program vibrant and work on raising funds.“We’re completely dependant on grants and donations,” she said. “I want to keep strengthening our financial base so we can count on the program continuing into the future.”Schmidt’s duties include organizing the training of new Beach Watchers, running monthly meetings, writing a monthly newsletter, coordinating members on projects and more.The Beach Watchers create new members by teaching an eight-week class each spring that provides volunteers with 100 hours of training to help them better preserve and protect Puget Sound waters.The program teaches members about water quality related issues like conservation, ecosystems and tidepools, and it conducts research in projects like their beach monitoring program that gathers data on beach life to observe changes in its inhabitants. Schmidt earned her master’s degree in wildlife ecology last year from the University of Arizona.----------------The Island County/WSU Beach Watchers and the town of Coupeville present the “Wonders of Whidbey” field seminar this Saturday to kick off Washington Water Weeks. The seminar, an outdoor version of the annual “Sound Waters” workshop, is designed to teach people about the fragile and magnificent treasures of Whidbey Island’s ecosystems. The “field trip style” seminar is divided into a morning session from 9 a.m to 11 a.m. and an afternoon session from 1 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a two-hour lunch and travel break between. Registration is $10 per person. Call Beach Watchers Program Coordinator Sarah Schmidt at 679-7391 or e-mail her at for registration information. Morning SessionBirds of the Beach and MarshGo with Bob Merrick of the Whidbey Audubon Society as he walks along Keystone Spit and Crockett Lake and learn about the importance of marshes and beaches for shorebird species.South Ebey’s Landing Bluff WalkWalk with geologist Gerald Thorsen as he explains the geologically rich bluff area and its multitude of geologic features.Agriculture on Ebey’s Prairie — Past, Present and Future Wilbur and Karen Bishop and Don Sherman of Sherman-Bishop Farms give an inside look at agriculture on Ebey’s Prairie.Ancient Forest and Wetland WalkDiscover the hidden island paradise at Classic U Forest in South Whidbey State Park with Whidbey’s most knowledgeable plant and forest experts Steve Erickson and Marianne Edain of Frosty Hollow Ecological Restoration.Rosario TidepoolsLearn about the fascinating intertidal critters at Deception Pass State Park’s tidepools with Ranger Rick Blank.Afternoon SessionAdmiralty Head Lighthouse/Fort Casey TourVisit Whidbey’s scenic and historic Fort Casey State Park for a personal tour of the lighthouse and fort by Marshall Bronson, member of the Lighthouse Society, and Bill Blair, Beach Watcher and tour guide.Plants and Birds of the ForestLearn about the variety of forest plants and birds at Fort Ebey State Park with Steve and Martha Ellis of the Whidbey Audubon Society.PlanktonOceanographer Dr. Mary Farmer and marine biologist Jan Homes give an introduction to the microscopic world of tiny plankton, an incredibly important part of the ocean’s web of life, at Freeland Park.Bogging at Sleeper RoadRanger Rick Blank explores the newest addition to Deception Pass State Park — a bog few have seen. The two to three mile hike will investigate unusual wetland plants and animals.Maxwelton Restoration ProjectExplore the Whidbey/Camano Land Trust restoration project on Maxwelton Creek with Cary Peterson, Land Trust president. Learn about the importance of stream hydrology and how it affects fish habitat with Carl Menconi, consultant for the Maxwelton Salmon Adventure. "

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