Paragliding at Ebey’s Landing hits turbulence
By NATHAN WHALEN
Whidbey News Times Staff reporter
August 15, 2011 · Updated 11:23 AM
Paragliders want to fly from a popular tourist spot within Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, but before their plans can take off they have to resolve concerns from preservation and environmental groups.
The Washington State Transportation Commission is considering a proposal that would allow paragliders to take off and land from the grassy field atop the bluff at Ebey’s Landing, but the idea is opposed by influential groups. Reserve officials and staff from the Nature Conservancy both argue the paragliders will alter the historic landscape and damage the environment of the bluff area.
Lawrence Wallman, a paraglider from Seattle, said the field at Ebey’s Landing bluff provides a chance for paragliders to fly during the winter. Prior to 2000, he said paragliders for years had flown from Ebey’s Landing. It ended because of erosion concerns raised by the Nature Conservancy.
The Trust Board of Ebey’s Landing doesn’t want paragliding to be allowed from the bluff, arguing that the activity isn’t compatible with the reserve’s purpose, which is to preserve the historic and cultural landscape that provides a record of settlement of Puget Sound from the 19th Century to the present, according to a letter Reserve Manager Mark Preiss submitted to the state Parks and Recreation Commission.
“The proposal to allow paragliding at Ebey’s Landing fundamentally and adversely alters and is at odds with the expected visitor experience to Ebey’s Landing and this area of Ebey’s Reserve,” Preiss wrote.
He added that the Trust Board of Ebey’s Landing recommends the state park system continue to offer a visitor experience that is tied to the land, which means hiking trails, interpretive kiosks and panels and beach walking.
Wallman counters that paragliders recognize the historical significance of the area, but they liken themselves to others who use the area.
“We don’t see ourselves as different than other visitors,” Wallman said.
Paragliding is currently allowed near the gun emplacements at Fort Ebey State Park. He said paragliders would like to also glide from Ebey’s Landing because the southeast winds common at the bluff are favorable for winter flying.
The Nature Conservancy, which owns land in Ebey’s Landing, opposes the paragliding proposal because officials believe the activity will damage the environmentally sensitive bluff.
Robin Stanton, spokeswoman for the Nature Conservancy, worries that the Ebey’s Landing bluff is susceptible to very erosion.
“It’s already eroding and we don’t want to speed that up,” Stanton said, noting that a trail from the top of the bluff to the beach had to be rerouted four years ago because of erosion.
Nature Conservancy officials are concerned that the heavy packs paragliders bring may also detract from the hikers who currently enjoy the bluff trail.
Wallman pointed out that paragliders won’t be landing on the side of the bluff. They will either land in the field on top, or on the beach down below.
“We can easily take care of their concerns by not landing on the side of the bluff,” Wallman said. He added that the equipment paragliders carry is typically inside a backpack. He equated the weight of the paraglider sail to the weight of a shower curtain. He added that paragliders are a small community and won’t overwhelm the bluff.
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission held a meeting last month to gauge public sentiment. Steven Starlund, stewardship manager for state parks’ Northwest region, said approximately 50 people attended. He described the crowd as polite, with people expressing concerns about how paragliding would affect vegetation, the historical landscape and routine flyovers from Navy aircraft.
He is currently sifting through the public comments and letters after which he will write report that he will distribute to all groups who commented as well as the commission.
He intends to meet with officials from Ebey’s Reserve and nearby landowners. No date for decision in the issue has been set.
Wallman is hopeful that the concerns that have arisen through the public comment process can be addressed and that paragliding will be allowed on a trial basis, at least.
“We’re hoping we’ll be able to fly there again on at least a temporary, provisional basis,” Wallman said.
Contact Whidbey News Times Staff reporter Nathan Whalen at email@example.com or 360-675-6611 ext. 5058.