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Big bash for state parks at Deception Pass

Deception Pass State Park will host a centennial celebration on Aug. 3, commemorating the 100-year anniversary of Washington
Deception Pass State Park will host a centennial celebration on Aug. 3, commemorating the 100-year anniversary of Washington's state park system.
— image credit: Ron Newberry / Whidbey News-Times

Perhaps the only way Jack Hartt could be more a part of the landscape at Deception Pass State Park is if his skin was made of stone.

Hartt manages one of Washington’s most spectacular state parks. He works at the park, sleeps at the park and nearly every day for 10 years has driven a pickup across a wide span of bridge that has become the iconic image not only of Deception Pass State Park but of the entire Washington state parks system.

So for Hartt, the selection of Deception Pass State Park as host of the state parks’ 100-year anniversary celebration this Saturday, Aug. 3, was only natural.

“It does make a lot of sense,” Hartt said. “It’s come to be what people think of in a state park with its dramatic scenery and a lot of fun things to do.”

Hartt is a part of a staff of 10 at the state park who have worked together with the Deception Pass Park Foundation to get ready for the signature centennial event for Western Washington, commemorating the park system’s 100 years of existence.

A celebration was held in Eastern Washington at Riverside State Park near Spokane on June 8.

“Even though there are celebrations of all kinds, we wanted to do two that were more formal -- one in the east and one in the west,” said Virginia Painter, communications director for the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, which manages the state parks. “I just asked those two park managers who are very adept at managing a large park event and who have very able, helpful and strong foundations if they could take part in helping us do that. We’re really grateful for them.”

Deception Pass State Park is one of 117 state parks in a Washington system and one of five on Whidbey Island, joining Joseph Whidbey State Park in Oak Harbor, South Whidbey State Park in Freeland, and Fort Casey State Park and Fort Ebey State Park in Coupeville.

Fort Casey State Park will hold a state parks anniversary celebration while also honoring “National Lighthouse Day” on Sunday, Aug. 4, from 1-4 p.m.

The party at Deception Pass, however, is the marquee event.

Although Gov. Jay Inslee will miss the celebration because of a previously scheduled engagement, other dignitaries will be on hand. Among them will be Don Hoch, state parks director, State Parks Commissioner Mark Brown and Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson.

Oak Harbor city councilman Bob Severns will emcee along with Eric Watilo, a regional manager with the state parks.

The centennial celebration starts with a Volksport Walk at 9 a.m. and doesn’t shut down until the music stops at 8 p.m.

There will be live music from five performers, park tours by bus, remote control sailboat races and food and crafts vendors.

An official ceremony from 1-2 p.m. will involve the Samish Tribe, a birthday cake and the honoring of former Civilian Conservation Corps member John Tursi. The ceremony and band performances by Cannery Underground (folk music), The Still Bill Band (rhythm and blues) and Jacobs Road (classic rock) all will take place in the east Cranberry Lake area on a main stage borrowed from Skagit Valley College.

“We have a lot of partners making a difference for this event,” Hartt said.

Evening entertainment by Rick Aydelotte (folk music) and A Moment in Time (a cappella gospel music) will be performed at the West Beach amphitheater, starting at 6 p.m.

The Deception Pass Park Foundation lists a complete schedule of the event at its website at www.deception

passfoundation.org. The nonprofit organization was formed to support education and resource protection at Deception Pass State Park.

“We’re just kind of the civilian arm of Deception Pass State Park,” said George Churchill, one of nine members on the foundation’s board.

With state funding growing more scarce for parks, groups such as the Deception Pass Park Foundation have formed to raise funds to support improvements and other projects at their designated parks.

Churchill said his group considers it an honor to co-host the state parks centennial event. He considers Deception Pass State Park part of his extended backyard for six decades. Now 68, he has lived in Oak Harbor since he was 9 and was part of Oak Harbor’s Boy Scout Troop 59 that helped build the first amphitheater at the park.

He said he was 12 or 13 when that took place.

“We got another Boy Scout troop to redo it (years later),” Churchill said, “and now we’re in the process of going out to get volunteers to redo the stage. It’s part of the foundation’s work.

“If you’re part of the community, you give back to the community.”

Churchill, who owns a real estate company, holds a lifetime of dear memories at the state park and isn’t bashful about boasting about the park and Oak Harbor.

“There are military people who have come across the bridge and said, ‘This is it. This is home. I’m never moving back,’” Churchill said. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that. Because when the sun shines, it’s a gorgeous place. When it rains, it’s even better.”

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