Folks living in the middle of the island can be congratulated. Some in the north make fun of those in the south. Some in the south make fun of those in the north. Those in the middle get to watch to debates fly back and forth. They get some free entertainment by watching both ends (Two Ends Same Island) while knowing that the middle might just be the sweetest spot.
The two ends draw a lot of attention in their own ways. Despite that, Coupeville is actually the county seat, the place from which the rest gets governed. Don’t go looking for monolithic buildings. The municipal buildings probably take up less space than their neighbor, the main hospital on the island. Those few blocks hold some of the most important buildings; especially considering the reality of the Whidbey Economy. Education and Health Services, and Public Administration are some of the largest components of the island economy.
That’s not the main reason the rest of the world knows about Coupeville. Coupeville and Langley should be sister cities because of the roles each plays in tourism. Boutiques, fine and fun dining, and a great waterfront location. People can come, find a place for a beverage, and watch the tides come up and down, in and out. Checking out the art galleries keeps some busy (and some artists fed.) The County Museum has surprisingly good collections despite the town only have about 2,000 people. Coupeville is one of the oldest cities in Washington. There’s a lot of history to share. Fortunately some of the buildings remain, and the locals are proud of them.
For Central Whidbey, preservation is more than just keeping old buildings from falling down. The climate is sunnier and drier than other parts of the island thanks to the long reach of the Olympic Mountain’s rain shadow. Some of the land was prairie. Take a prairie, give it plenty of sunshine, just enough rain, and watch the farms grow. A unique collection of agencies found that none of them could adequately preserve historic homes, maintain traditional farms, protect the environment, while also supporting a viable economy. So, Ebey’s Landing National Heritage Reserve was born. Local organizations joined with the National Park Service to create an innovative consortium that, in addition to tackling all of those issues, also saved some of the most attractive scenery on the island. Look west across broad farms that have a backdrop of the mountains and the Sound.
Opposite the town, on the western shore, is a collection of history, nature, and even a bit of utility. The point of land that is Admiralty Head was a logical place to build a fort, one of a series that guard the entry to Puget Sound. Fort Casey aimed it guns at the naval traffic in the early and mid 1900s. Now, it is a state park with fortifications to wander around. Its neighbor is Camp Casey, which had been the Fort’s barracks, but is now a conference center as well as the site of a colorful kite festival. To the south is the ferry terminal to Port Townsend. Ferries are a wonderful mix of utilitarian (basically cheaper than bridges), and romanticism (a reason to take a ride across to the equally touristy town of Port Townsend.
Wrapped around the ferry terminal is another collection of properties preserving more land and a lake, Crockett Lake. The main visitors fly in. Migratory flocks frequent the lake and surrounding marsh lands. They and the local birds benefit from a tidal environment that provides food and protection. That also means plenty of people driving there to add to the species and varieties they might not see elsewhere. The local hawks and eagles pay close attention, too, but they’re there to do more than look.
Tourism advocates make the most noise about the scenic aspects, but one of the noisiest debates on the island is about the noise that’s centered on the center. The Navy base trains pilots for landing on aircraft carriers by having a simple simulation of one on land. OLF (OutLying Field) is one of those sensitive topics that the mere mention of it can shut down a conversation or make people raise their voices. That’s a debate that won’t be solved readily, but if you want to see F-18s fly low, drive by the field during training. They’re hard to miss. You might want to bring ear plugs. Even with ear protection, you’ll probably feel the rumble in your bones.
Ironically, the center of the island is also known for “All quiet on the set!” The area is so visually appealing and iconic that TV ads are filmed there, as well as some movies. A scene or so from Officer and a Gentleman was set at Fort Casey. The more popular draw though is Practical Magic, a movie that makes it easy to tour Coupeville, though a literally white-washed version of the downtown area. Evidently, they painted the buildings just for the movie.
If all of this was all there was on Whidbey Island, the island would still be popular with tourists and locals. The center of the island gets attention, and not as much as it deserves. But then, maybe locals like it that way. From sunrises over Penn Cove to sunsets over Admiralty Inlet, and the scenes in between, there’s more than enough to enjoy. (And don’t forget, the mussel farm in the cove gets celebrated during Musselfest. Come by to shuck something.)