With land purchase, county aiming to expand recreation trails

A popular, yet somewhat hidden, Central Whidbey trail system will get bigger, and easier to get to.

Whidbey Camano Land Trust, Island County and the Navy are partnering to purchase and develop recreational land near Libbey Road.

The Land Trust facilitated the transaction for Island County’s purchase of 42 acres near State Highway 20, south of Libbey Road.

The conservation organization approached the county after noticing the ideally located parcel was for sale.

“That property had kind of been on our radar,” said Pat Powell, Land Trust executive director.

It has a native rhododendron forest and is situated near the county-owned Kettles Recreation Area and Fort Ebey State Park. Club presidents of the Whidbey Island Bicycle Club and Island County Chapter of Backcountry Horsemen wrote county commissioners letters in support of the purchase, citing the value of the existing trails and potential value of the addition.

Volunteers from both organization help maintain the trail system.

County commissioners voted 2-to-1 last month to pay $45,000 for the property, and the Navy purchased a restrictive easement over the property for $585,000 to limit development.

The agreement states that because of the area’s proximity to Ault Field and Outlying Field Coupeville, “it is in the public interest to limit the development and/or use of the property” that would interfere with Navy training or operations.

The easement will prohibit construction of permanent structures or commercial harvest and allow recreational use and property maintenance.

The new area has space for a larger parking lot to accommodate horse trailers, Powell said.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said she supports the protection of this “narrow part of the island” and the opportunity to reduce impact of future development.

The Kettles trails are primarily maintained by volunteers, according to Public Works Director Bill Oakes.

Commissioner Jill Johnson said she was worried about increasing the amount of property the county is responsible for, and that it is relying too heavily on volunteers for maintenance. She also expressed concern over the area’s history of encampments.

Oakes said the trails could partially open this fall, and he expects formal parking construction to begin in 2020. The completed product should connect dozens of trails and provide new access to the state park, beaches and the town of Coupeville, Powell said.

“It’s pretty exciting for the tourist economy,” she said, “but also for us that like to get out and walk.”

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