Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve is seeking to conserve land and improve its trails as it gears up to help celebrate the National Parks Service’s centennial.
Conservation is at the very heart of the purpose of the Reserve, according to Executive Director Kristen Griffin. Early settlers started a “very grassroots kind of action” to create a Reserve that, unlike a park, is owned and managed by private property owners in order to preserve a “common identity as a country,” Griffin said.
The hope is to obtain further conservation easements, raise additional funds, and win National Park Service grants to help prepare for the centennial of the National Park Service, of which the Reserve is a member.
“I love the fact that local people had a vision of this place and took action to preserve it,” said Griffin. However, there is a remaining need for purchasing some conservation easements for the Reserve that the Whidbey Camano Land Trust and others are seeking.
“The concept of the Reserve is, yes, it’s that early exploration and settlement, but what’s special about this place is that the continuity is still going here,” Griffin said. “That we have the same land-use patterns. You can see that activity. It’s unbroken, and in many cases, we have families that are still farming in the same place for six or seven generations.”
The Reserve is a testament to the settlers who came up from the Oregon Trail, like Isaac Ebey, who was the first settler to snatch up prime real estate according to the geography, Griffin said. The boundaries are intended to embrace “the history and heritage associated with those land-use patterns” as outlined in the 1850-1855 Donation Land Claims.
Therefore, Ebey’s NHR has what Griffin calls, “a cultural landscape where the physical environment, the natural environment it actually preserves, it records all that settlement activity, the structures, the farming, the roads, even the prairies themselves, they have been kept open as prairies not just by the modern farming but prehistorically by the Native Americans who used this area. … If you look at the land, it reflects all those thousands of years of use. It’s a pretty interesting place.”
Preserving this does require financial support, Griffin said. No more than 50 percent of operations funds comes from the National Parks Service, with the rest coming from other Reserve partners, including Washington State Parks, Island County Government and the Town of Coupeville, plus other types of outside funding.
The Reserve is applying for grants as part of the National Parks Service centennial in 2016, which is aiming to help citizens “Find Your Park” — whether that be a full national park, a recreational area, a preserve or a volcanic monument. If approved, one grant would pay to improve the trails so visitors can experience the Reserve “in a way that’s good for the land, good for the residents, good for the reserve.” Another grant would improve and replace the wayside signs dating from the 1980s and 1990s.
“This place hasn’t been preserved as a place frozen in time like what it was in the 1850s,” Griffin said. “It’s got modern roads and it has got modern houses, and we have schools, and a fire station and a hospital — all those things. We have the processing plant for Penn Cove Shellfish. There’s a lot of care taken in how those things become integrated into the Reserve. … It’s an area that still has the ability to tell the story of the activity and the history that occurred there.”