Editorial: A tough act to follow

A new manager will soon be appointed for Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Whoever that person is, he or she will face a monumental task in trying to fill the shoes of Rob Harbour.

The National Historical Reserve on Central Whidbey is the island’s crown jewel, from the hundreds of acres of preserved and working agricultural lands to the historic buildings, natural habitat, trails, waterfront and stunning views. It’s a beautiful testament to the fact that agriculture, nature and history are all good for business, as the Reserve attracts thousands of visitors each year from throughout the world.

When viewing the Reserve, it’s hard to imagine what it would look like today without all the work put into it by Rob Harbour over the years. But it almost certainly wouldn’t be so wonderful. Without Harbour, would the old game farm have been preserved? Would the stunning Pratt farm be saved, or dotted with houses? Would the Engle farm be sitting idle, rather than a working farm? In each case, Harbour led a monumental effort to save those lands, and in each case he succeeded. For that and much more, the community will always owe him a debt of gratitude.

During Harbour’s years as Reserve manager, it has been under constant pressure from population growth. While he leaves the heart of the Reserve in even better shape than he found it, he’s concerned about unchecked growth around the edges. Farmland is being abandoned and taken over by housing to the north and to the south. There’s no money to purchase the development rights to these piecemeal properties. So houses encroach, even around the San de Fuca schoolhouse.

The next Reserve manager can honor Harbour’s efforts not by being a caretaker, but by being dedicated to making the Reserve even better and preserving even more from the onslaught of development. Raise private funds, find more allies, do an even better job of lobbying Congress and the Legislature. As Rob Harbour showed, running the Reserve is more of a mission than a job, and for this job we need a dedicated, enthusiastic man or a woman on a mission.