“They paved paradise to put up a parking lot.” – Joni Mitchell
And then there’s Whidbey Island, which has its share of parking lots, but it also has more than the normal amount of parks, parklands, and lands saved for preservation.
Seattle’s growing ridiculously fast. Look around the Puget Sound region and notice that land on the mainland is quickly being paved and built on to make rooms for the thousands moving to the area. Suburban sprawl has sprawled almost as much as possible, which means fitting in more people requires finding room for them within the already developed spaces. Condos from the city to the countryside, or so it would seem.
Whidbey Island feels the pressure. Islanders definitely feel the pressure, and understandably strive to find the balance that accommodates new residents while saving open spaces, forests, and parks. The balancing act isn’t an act, it isn’t academic, it’s important. Islands have limits that can’t be ignored. There’s only so much land, water, and opportunities for things like septic systems.
Save the farms! Look around at the arable land and prairies. Some would see development waiting to happen. Others see something vital: food.
Save the history! Whidbey Island’s incorporated areas may be young compared to the East Coast, but there were settlers of a different sort thousands of years ago, and European settlers whose first marks are fading fast.
Save the natural beauty! Some great, historic, farm properties have awesome views. Some great views are viewed from land that could never be tamed. Bluffs and tidelands attract naturalists. Photographers have few excuses for running out of subjects.
More than one organization is helping save and preserve the variety of valuable, and in some cases irreplaceable, properties.
Ebey’s Landing is a National Historic Reserve. The US National Park Service joined with several local organizations to preserve a place with farms, views, natural beauty – but in a unique mix that didn’t quite fit any organization’s charter perfectly. They saw past the imperfections and created a preserve that has active farms, trails that look out to the Pacific, whales swimming by, and a collection of historic buildings. Those buildings may look young to someone from Europe, but they were some of the first buildings in the state.
Thanks to Washington State, Island County, local organizations, and municipalities, there are enough parks to keep most people busy. From one of the most popular parks in the state (Deception Pass on the northern tip) to relatively new parks (Possession Beach on the southern tip) there are parks with grand features like Deception Pass and its bridge, long shoreline walks at several sites, and inland parks known for great play fields. Some have been so popular that they’ve been used as movie sets. Fort Casey is a natural place for great vistas, but with fortifications, massive guns, and the occasional movie star.
It isn’t all about the government, parks, or views.
“The mission of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust is to actively involve the community in protecting, restoring, and appreciating the important natural habitats and resource lands that support the diversity of life on our islands and in the waters of Puget Sound.“
Good luck counting the dots on the map. WCLT works with homeowners as well as municipalities to protect the places that may be important without always being pretty. “Natural habitats”, “resource lands”, “diversity of life” can apply to places known for migratory wildlife, safe havens for native plants and animals, or simply rich eco-systems. Whether they are photogenic or easily accessible is secondary to being naturally vital.
(Disclosure: I am a site steward for one of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust properties: Hammons Preserve.)
Islanders who appreciate their land coordinate with WCLT to preserve it and protect it from development. A farmer can decide that their farm would be better saved as “a place to rest a while.” Without that foresight, a few acres that were homesteaded long ago, would’ve turned into a neighborhood of McMansions. Now, some of those acres are being reforested, others are being left as wetlands, others are being left as meadows that enable one of the few remaining public views of Cultus Bay.
And then there are the islanders working unofficially and independently, the people who decide to live here and protect what’s here. There are people who, when shopping for land, see a ravine or a wetland or a bluff or a stream that is unbuildable, and who buy it to preserve and enjoy it. People who, when they see a five acre parcel that’s half flat and buildable, and half contorted topography covered in trees and cut by a stream will spend more time celebrating the ravine. Their efforts are harder to track and illustrate, but they may be some of the most important protectors.
Pave paradise? Some folks prefer to preserve paradise. Thanks to those who make the effort.