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Kindly meeting of land and sea ... and a new kind of park; Ebey's Landing is a handy Puget Sound detour.

Ebey's Landing 'is a handy Puget Sound detour

It may be the kindliest meeting of land and sea anywhere around Puget Sound. Ebey's Landing, a stunning crescent of beach buttressed by low headlands, yields not to rain-shrouded forest but to sunny prairie instead.

For more than 150 years, Whidbey Island's thin "waistline" has been coveted-first by Skagit Indians who came in dugout canoes to gather prairie roots and berries, then by settlers who saw this rare opening in the forest and knew that they could farm it without having to log it first. The landing has always been a crossroads on the sound. Today it's an easy detour for travelers heading to or from the San Juan Islands or Olympic Peninsula.

Visitors marvel at storm-tossed winter seas, photograph spring wildflowers, picnic on a sunny summer bluff, hike the beaches in fall. And a decade ago, locals rallied when subdivision threatened. Last year, this sweep of coast was dedicated as centerpiece of an innovative new unit in the national park system. Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve protects a diverse "cultural landscape" of coasts and pastures, glacial geology and Indian prehistory, an 1850s seaport village, and military forts.

You can play on the beach, scuba dive, surf-cast for salmon, watch birds, canoe a cove, hike a bluff, or bike a lane.

Inventing a new kind of "park"

Mostly privately owned, Ebey isn't a national park in the traditional sense. But in an era of tight budgets and diminishing wilderness, "this style of management may soon become the vogue," says Charles Odegaard, the Park Service's Northwest regional director. (A similar reserve was established last fall at Idaho's City of Rocks.)

Named for the landing used by homesteader and customs agent Isaac N. Ebey, the reserve was created in 1978. Congress placed it under Park Service jurisdiction but gave little specific direction.

Since condemnation was forbidden, park personnel used persuasion to safeguard open space and preserve scenic vistas. They bought farmers' development rights and created "density bonuses" to help cluster growth. Most important, a ninemember trust board of local citizens and representatives from state and national parks drafted management guidelines.

This innovative protection has already earned Ebey fame among park planners; inquiries have come from Australia, Canada, England, Italy, Nepal, Poland. Real estate agents who once opposed the reserve now praise it to prospective buyers.

New roadside exhibits tell Ebey's story

Ebey's achievement is still little known beyond Puget Sound. But now, more lodging and trails, improved parking at key sites, and new life in old Coupeville are attracting more visitors.

And the reserve's story is more visible. Earlier this year, three roadside exhibits went up to explain the land's ice-age origins and rain-shadow weather, Indian "fire farming" (burning meadows every year to keep trees from growing), and why Haida Indians beheaded Isaac Ebey in 1857. More exhibits are coming, and a free recreation guide is due in June, Ask for it in town shops, or write to Trust Board of Ebey's Landing, Box 774, Coupeville 98239.

Loop drive to a baker's dozen stops

Our tour (about 160 miles round trip from Seattle) leads to 13 stops keyed to the map above. Do it in a day or a weekend. For a list of lodgings and campgrounds, write to Central Whidbey Chamber of Commerce, Box 152, Coupeville 98239, or call (206) 675-3535.

At Mukilteo, board the ferry for the 15minute ride to Whidbey Island ($3.75 for car and driver; passengers extra). Drive northwest 26 miles on state highways 525 and 20. On the left, look for a blue camping sign, all that marks entry to 160acre Rhododendron Park (1), where native rhodies bloom till mid-June.

Two miles west is Compeville (2). Falsefront Victorians crowd Front Street, its seaward half built on pilings above the tide. Browse for tartars and tweeds, weaving supplies, stained glass, nautical gifts, antiques. A growing number of pubs, cafes, and delis offer meals with views.

At the foot of Alexander Street, Indian war canoes and an 1855 blockhouse built by anxious pioneers stand next to a new museum building, to open in November. A brochure, free in town shops, details the reserve's history and maps a walking tour past 48 buildings, most from the 1880s.

Follow Madrona Way past idyllic Grasser's Lagoon (3). Grasser's Hill (4), on Skyview Meadows Road, is famous for wildflowers

and wide-ranging views.

Little-visited Monroe's Landing (5), east on Penn Cove Road, offers a launching area for canoers and a splendid picnic beach. Fort Ebey State Park (6) boasts superb bluff and beach trails, glacial kettle holes, a fishing lake, and camping ($7).

Sunnyside Cemetery (7) overlooks Ebey's Prairie. New exhibits explain the prairie's unusual origins; look for a blockhouse, and a headstone in Welsh. Trust Board Trail leads southwest a mile across private land to Perego's Bluff-, a state park trail drops to the pebbly beach. Walk the beach north 4 miles to Fort Ebey, or south 3 miles to Fort Casey (carry a tide table).

Ebey's Landing (8) affords direct beach access and has more interpretive exhibits. Trails thread the 137 acres of Fort Casey Historical State Park (9), from bluff to beach, past meadows tumbling to the sea, to vintage disappearing guns and 1902 Admiralty Head Lighthouse (open 10 to 6 Wednesdays through Sundays). Walk from beachfront campsites ($7) to picnic tables in groves of wind-sculpted conifers, or along all 7 miles of beach to Fort Ebey.

The ferry to Port Townsend leaves from Keystone Harbor (10). East lies more park beach, where scuba divers waddle toward an underwater reserve. Beyond a cluster of houses, beachcombers pore over the tide's offerings on mile-long Keystone Spit (11), recently added to Fort Casey park.

Behind the spit lies wildfowl-rich Crockett Lake (12). Stay in your car and scan with binoculars for resident owls, bald eagles, osprey. In spring and fall, look for cormorants, ducks, grebes, herons, and loons,

North of the lake are Crockett Blockhouse (13) and another roadside exhibit.

Need rental gear? It's in short supply on Whidbey. To reserve bikes, call The Pedaler near Langley (321-5040), or Chuck Dann's Sports (675-2122) in Oak Harbor; mountain and touring bikes cost about $15 a day. For small-boat rentals and sailing cruises planned this summer, check with Harbor Store in Coupeville (678-3625).
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Date:Jun 1, 1989
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