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New plans for Ebey's Reserve

A slightly larger, more tourist-friendly and better regulated Ebey’s National Historical Reserve could be the outcome of a planning effort now underway.

At a meeting in Coupeville next Thursday, the public will learn that the preferred alternative for the reserve’s future includes enhanced visitor programs and facilities and new efforts to promote agriculture. Increased funding, if approved by Congress, would hike the number of reserve employees from four to ten, and a new land use plan would be put in place with an “overlay” of more protective zoning by the county.

Future visitors would be greeted by a new visitors’ center located in a historic building, and funding would be sought to expand the reserve’s boundaries.

Assuming the sellers are willing, reserve planners would like to acquire more prairie, agricultural lands, and wetlands, including areas of Crockett Lake and the Navy’s Outlying Field not currently in the reserve, as well as additional portions of Smith Prairie and, to the north, Bell Farm.

Specifics of the proposed changes can be found in volumes one and two of the Draft General Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement of Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, which came out just this month. The Coupeville Library has copies.

The public meeting Sept. 15 will be from 2 to 5 p.m. in the Coupeville Recreation Hall for those who would like to hear more about or comment on the plan.

Ebey’s Reserve is now more than 25 years old, and to the casual observer it looks as beautiful as ever. From a viewpoint near Sunnyside Cemetery, the visitorsees hundreds of acres of green and golden crops, historic houses and farm buildings, and stunning high bluffs overlooking the sea.

But Rob Harbour, the reserve manager, sees trouble ahead if things don’t change.

“It’s being nibbled to death by ducks,” Harbour said as he looked over the scenery. Where others see wide open farmland, he sees 5,000 separate lots. A few are owned outright by the Park Service, others have sold their development rights, but still others are controlled only by county zoning.

“Thousand of people live within this park,” Harbour said. “A lot of people are getting a little complacent.”

The reserve’s boundaries extend to the north to roughly Whidbey Air Park and to the south to Keystone Road and Snakelum Point, but historic preservation efforts can be hit-and-miss.

“Some people think we’re not protecting enough,” Harbor said. “It’s part of the trade-offs, houses and greenhouses. But some say we’re not hardcore enough.”

While it’s true that some people might complain of a new house that distracts from the historic view of the old San de Fuca School, and others may wonder why houses are popping up in former farmland overlooking Penn Cove, Harbour explains that the Trust Board sometimes has little say in what’s happening. In some cases a view corridor agreement contains a provision for a new house. In others county zoning prevails. But despite such “nibbling” worries, great progress has been made in other areas in recent years.

“The last five or six years have been pretty incredible,” Harbour said. He recalls a real estate sign once posted on the Engle Farm, which went bankrupt. “Like the view?” the sign asked, referring the viewer to a local Realtor. But it wasn’t broken up into view lots. Instead, Engle Farm was purchased by the Park Service.

Public ownership of property in the Reserve isn’t the goal, however. In fact, Harbour said they board would like to sell Engle Farm to someone who would operate it as a farm. “I’ve been overseeing operations at the farm,” Harbour said. “Len and Bob (Engle) run it, but it takes a lot of my time. We hope to get it back into private hands.”

Part of the draft management plan calls for more effort to promote agriculture in the reserve. “We’re worried about markets for agricultural products,” Harbour said. “We need farmers to be successful here. We get one million park visitors every year, if each one could buy some ice cream or cheese that would help.” A committee is already working on such ideas.

Other threatened parts of the reserve have also been spared from possible development. When the state closed its Game Farm, the Au Sable Institute stepped in to purchase the property it for its Pacific Rim Campus. Today, Au Sable is active in preserving the prairie.

When Robert Pratt died in 1999, he donated some valuable property to the Reserve but left hundreds of acres that could have been subject to development. The Nature Conservancy stepped in to purchase four key holdings: the 20-acre Ferry Forest, the 400-acre West Woods area, the one-acre Cottage Parcel, and the 60-acre West Ridge parcel that includes the very historic Jacoy Ebey House and Blockhouse. Today, the

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