Meetings help map Ebey's future

"Put in more hiking trails. Limit parking. Allow hang gliding. Plant more hedge rows. Give farmers more flexibility. All are ideas for managing and protecting Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve offered at a series of public meetings last week.The focus of the meetings, conducted by members of the National Parks Service and the reserve's board, was to help develop a general management plan for the reserve. The blueprint, or comprehensive plan, the reserve's board uses to manage the area was crafted in 1980.But time has created a need to update the plan, according to Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve Trust Board chairman Bob Lappin.It's 20 years old and there have been so many critical changes on the prairie, it's a perfect time to revisit it, Lappin said.The reserve is a 17,400-acre patch-work quilt of farms, forest, bluff, and beach land that blankets the center of Whidbey Island. It encompasses two state parks, the town of Coupeville and some of the last working farms on the island. The Reserve was established by federal legislation in 1978, inspired by group of Whidbey locals trying to stave off development in the area.It is managed by the Ebey's Reserve Trust Board, a nine-member board representing the National Parks Service, Washington State Parks, Island County and the Town of Coupeville.Some of the recent changes in the reserve include the acquisition of more than 500 acres.On March 24, Fran Einterz and Joyce Peterson bought the 138-acre Jenne Farm, located between Fort Casey and Engle roads, just south of Hill Road.And June 2, The Nature Conservancy of Washington bought 387 acres of forest bordering the bluff trail for $5 million. A central theme of the meetings involved finding a balance: How to preserve and protect a 22-square mile area rich in agricultural and cultural history while helping farmers in the area to survive increasingly trying times? Also, how to both manage and accommodate a growing number of visitors and their recreational interests while preserving the solitude people seek along the reserve's beaches, bluffs, fields and forests?In all, three planning meetings were held - one at REI's Seattle store and two at the Coupeville Recreation Hall.The Seattle audience was concerned mostly with limiting management and providing recreational opportunities like para-gliding and parking for RV's, Lappin said.The afternoon audience in Coupeville was attended by several farmers working land in the reserve, that in some cases had been in their families for generations.They expressed concerns about the need for the trust board to be flexible in our requirements and the difficult times they're going through, Lappin said.For example, he said, a farmer might need to rebuild a barn but not have time to go through a prolonged historical or design review process to do it.About 60 people showed up for the evening meeting in Coupeville, representing a variety of interests.Some were concerned that many of the old outbuildings were falling down and there were no incentives for landowners to spend the money to fix them.Reserve resident Ken Pickard suggested setting up an endowment fund for the express purpose or repairing old buildings.Many voiced support for the farmers who spoke earlier in the day.Whatever is decided, we should do nothing to make it more difficult for farmers, Alan Hancock said. The whole area is what it is because of farming.Gretchen Luxenberg, National Parks Service liaison for Ebey's Reserve, agrees.I think one of the biggest challenges is preserving this agricultural landscape, Luxenberg said. If you don't have a working, viable agricultural landscape, you've lost the essence of the reserve. Luxenberg said preservation plans are complicated by a number of different landowners with differing goals and visions. The list includes Au Sable Institute, The Nature Conservancy, National Park Service, Island County, the town of Coupeville, Seattle Pacific University, Washington State Parks and private landowners.The National Service will be the lead agency in gathering the proposals and weighing them against its needs for managing and preserving the reserve.This is just to get initial feedback, Luxenberg said. Over the next 6-8 months, we'll be reading comments and develop alternatives on how we think the reserve should be managed to reach the desired vision. We have to strike a balance between all the comments and what's good for preservation of the resources.--------------------------Have your sayCopies of the newsletter outlining the general management plan for Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve are available at Coupeville Town Hall.Comments or suggestions for shaping the general management plan for the reserve will be accepted until Aug. 15.Send comments to: Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, General Management Plan, National Parks Service, 909 First Ave. Suite 500, Seattle, WA 98104-9882. Or: Ebey's Landing NHR Trust Board, General Management Plan, P.O. Box 774, Coupeville, WA 98239.Plan timelineThe planning process for putting together a general management plan and environmental impact statement for Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve will develop in four steps over the next year.1) Gather information and establish goals through public scoping meetings. To be completed by summer of 2000.2) Develop alternatives working with agencies and community members. To be completed by fall 2000.3) Prepare and publish a draft growth management plan and environmental impact statement and distribute draft for public review and comment. To be completed by spring 2001.4) Revise the draft, publish the report and distribute to the public. To be completed by summer 2001."

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