Protection Efforts Stacking up in Ebey’s Reserve
Land Trust Has Protected 45 properties, 1,547 Acres Since 2003
Some things never change.
Robert Bishop realized that on a recent sunny afternoon when he found himself covered in sweat and green alfalfa dust after loading bales of hay into a pickup driven by his older brother, Malcolm. They had come to help out another brother, Wilbur, at his farm on Ebey’s Prairie in Central Whidbey.
“How come I have the bad job?” Robert joked to Malcolm while peering into the pickup’s window.
“Because you’re younger than I am,” Malcolm said with a grin.
The lighthearted exchange between the two brothers led Malcolm to reflect on the early years at their parents’ small farm just west of Coupeville and share why it was important for their family to work with the Whidbey Camano Land Trust to protect the land that surrounded the family home.
All 10 Bishop siblings agreed that the family’s 12-acre rural property needed to be protected to preserve a place of so many fond memories. In August, a conservation easement was placed on the land to permanently protect it from development.
“My dad (the late Paul Bishop) was a doctor,” said Malcolm, now retired as Coupeville’s public works director. “He grew up on a farm. Farming life was very important to him. Our folks loved this area. We loved it growing up.”
“I don’t think anyone in the family ever wanted to see houses and development on it,” said Robert, a veterinarian who also serves as the Island County coroner. “I want my great grandkids to see it just the way it was when I was growing up. I love that idea.”
The Bishop conservation easement is just the latest in a growing list of protection successes orchestrated by the Land Trust in Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. In the 14 years since Pat Powell was hired as Land Trust executive director, the organization has secured $24 million in grants to protect important lands and waters in the Reserve.
This year alone, the Land Trust has protected five properties totaling more than 50 acres in the Reserve and is working on eight others representing another 573 acres. Some of those projects are at the north end of the Reserve, an area which historically hasn’t had much protection. Several properties along Monroe Landing Road north of Penn Cove are subjects of particular focus.
“In addition to local farms and woodlots, we’ve protected two rare prairies, an old growth forest, coastal bluffs, critical wetlands, and beach access. We also build and connect walking trails. It’s the whole suite of conservation,” Powell said.
The Land Trust’s efforts dispel a public misconception that all properties within the boundaries of the 17,572-acre Reserve are protected from development. It’s true that the creation of the nation’s first historical reserve by Congress in 1978 led to protection of thousands of acres of farmland by the National Park Service and other entities, but the only protection measures within the Reserve over the past 14 years have been achieved by the Land Trust.
The Land Trust’s strategic focus has been to connect both large and small parcels of land with existing protected areas to complete a protected landscape tapestry throughout the Reserve. Most land in the Reserve remains in private ownership and much remains vulnerable to development pressures. Those pressures have increased due to population growth and the allure of owning a residence near such natural beauty and open space.
“When you drive in here, people always say how beautiful it is,” Malcolm Bishop said. “Well, it’s only beautiful if it stays farmed. Today, this would be prime country for homes right here.”
Greg Meredith understands that feeling. He lives over the ridgeline from Ebey’s Prairie, smack dab in the middle of a pastoral setting with a view of vast fields, mountains, and weathered barns.
Meredith worked with the Land Trust this year to protect 20 acres next to his home through a conservation agreement. He continues to raise sheep on the property and agreed to a trail easement that soon will allow walkers to enjoy the rural scenery as part of the Land Trust’s Walking Ebey’s trail system.
“I bought the property about 20 years ago,” Meredith said. “I’d always wanted it to remain as farmland. I feel it’s a very unique area. Everybody should look to try to save a little bit of what might have been in years past so people in the future can enjoy it. It’s a gem we all have to protect.”
That philosophy is similar to the one shared by the Bishops. That’s what got them thinking it was time to get down to the business of protecting the land where they grew up. Their land includes farmland, forest, and remnants of the family orchard. The Bishops also agreed to a trail easement and a small parking area that will be linked to a larger trail network.
Arletta Uptegrove can relate to the special feeling the Bishops have for their land. It’s one reason she worked with the Land Trust this year on a conservation easement to protect the three-acre property that still holds her childhood home. She also donated the five-acre forest next to it to the Land Trust that is one of the scenic entrances into Coupeville.
Her property isn’t far away from the old Bishop place, and Paul Bishop used to be her doctor.
Uptegrove, formerly Arletta Lynch, said her reasons to protect the land were deeply sentimental. Her ancestors in Coupeville date back to the 19th century. Uptegrove’s parents, grandparents, and great grandparents are all buried at Sunnyside Cemetery. When her own daughter died of cancer in 2002, her ashes were sprinkled in the waters off Ebey’s Landing.
“I wanted to keep a piece of Whidbey as it was when my relatives settled here,” she said.