Very cool! Island Transit has a new bus route that can take hikers right into Fort Ebey State Park, Fort Casey State Park and to the Ebey’s Landing trailhead to the Ebey’s Bluff Trail. But it’s only for the summer and not many know about it. So I decided to try it myself. Here’s what I learned.
I caught the Route 1 Northbound from Freeland. As we neared Coupeville I told the driver I wanted to catch the Central Whidbey State Park bus. It’s a close connection between these buses at the Coupeville Park and Ride. The driver radioed ahead telling the next bus to wait for me. So tip number one, tell your bus driver where you want to go and they’ll help you get there.
The next bus driver took me into Fort Ebey State Park. I asked to be let off at the entrance station, but told him to look for me at the Lake Pondilla parking lot when he came back in 90 minutes. Then I had to figure out how far I could hike in 90 minutes. I know how fast I walk on a sidewalk, but trails are slower. I take pictures, listen to birds, stop to enjoy flowers, and views of the water, and there are ups and downs, roots and rocks, etc. So I set out with a modest plan with options to add a short section if I had time at the end.
I took the Old Gun Battery Road just up the hill from the entrance station, an easy walk passing the Hiker Biker campsite. The bus had turned down toward Lake Pondilla as I got off but here it was at the gun battery parking lot. I passed by and took the Bluff Trail looking into a thick fog bank, hearing buoy bells, fog horns and waves hit the beach below, but seeing only a white curtain. Turning into the forest the twisted trees told how hard the wind blows on the bluff.
I circled the campground and took the Hokey-Ka-Dodo trail inland. Other trails presented themselves, but with a limited time, I stuck to my plan taking the Forest Run trail over to the Raiders Creek trail. That is my favorite trail in the park. It’s lush with a ravine on one side and a bank on the other. I walked flanked by sword ferns four feet high. As I reached the road, I crossed to take the Kyle’s Kettle Trail. A deer stepped out from behind a tree. A snag told of hungry woodpeckers hard at work. Several ravens were barking madly close together making a terrible raucous. A moment later I came upon some trees with scratch marks up over my head. Bear? Was that what the birds were so excited about? This park is plenty big to hide and feed a black bear. One had been seen on the north end a few weeks ago.
I arrived at the Old Entrance Road and turned toward the lake. A few minutes later I was walking the narrow trail toward the water. Lily pads graced the surface. But I couldn’t linger. So I turned and climbed the hill to the Beach parking lot. No bus. I walked down to the end of the road around the corner. No bus. I walked up to the entrance station. No, Karen told me, the bus had left. It must have passed through my end of the park and gone up to the gun battery. So I went on another walk, found a spot in the sun to eat lunch, and then came out to the entrance station (which is also the exit station) to make sure I caught the next bus.
I called Island Transit and the park staff to talk about it and they’d prefer we meet the bus at the Lake Pondilla or Beach parking area. But not all the drivers know this. It will take a while to work out the kinks. It’s cool to take a bus to a trailhead, but bring a lunch just in case.
To get the schedule for the Central Whidbey Parks bus click here.
For a park trail map, ask at the entrance station.
Directions: From Highway 20, 4 miles north of Coupeville, turn left on Libbey Road. Turn left on Hill Valley Drive which leads into the park.
By Bus and Bike: See the Island Transit bus route for the Central Whidbey State Parks here. Two bikes fit on a bus bike rack. Mountain biking is popular at this park and the adjoining Kettles Trails. Libbey Road is moderately traveled but there is no shoulder once you turn onto Hill Valley Road which twists and turns and is hilly so please wear something bright if you bike there. Be careful of RVers as you near the park.
Mobility: The trail from the Beach parking area to Lake Pondilla is smooth and nearly level except at the end near the parking lot. The Old Entrance Road is smooth, almost level and wide with a small place to pull over where it meets the park road. Other trails are more challenging with roots, rocks, ups and downs. The gun battery is paved and level.
If you look at a map, it’s at the heart of Whidbey Island. And if you want to impress your sweetheart, you might bring them here. That’s what Vin Sherman told me while walking in Rhododendron Park last fall. He grew up on Ebey’s Prairie, just outside of Coupeville, and said on prom night, they’d cruise the Rhodie Road and see the wild rhododendrons in bloom, as pretty as the corsage they’d just pinned on their date. What a lovely image. I filed that away in my memory bank and this spring, I actually remembered to go see for myself.
My yard has huge rhododendrons that erupted in full bloom this month. The largest could hide a house with purple flowers as big as a cheerleader’s pompoms. When people stop by, their eyes widen, they draw in their breath and praise the beauty thinking maybe I had something to do with it. I didn’t.
These shrubs were planted here thirty years ago by Harold and Gerta. But I’ve been doing my best to maintain them.
Walking through Rhododendron Park is totally different. These rhodies are native, growing among the tall fir and cedar in a natural forest. It took me awhile to adjust to their subtle beauty. A pale blossom spotlighted by a single ray of sunshine breaking through the canopy; a cluster of purple flowers reaching for the sky between tall trees.
I’d hopped on the bus after work and hopped off at Quail Trail Lane, just across the street. I waited for the cars to part and then hustled across the highway to the Rhododendron Bike Trail for easy walking away from traffic. I turned at the WAIF animal shelter and walked the park road with salal hedges on both sides. A few tall rhodies caught my eye above the bushes. I studied my options on a park map at the kiosk. The Rhodie Road is what Vin had described so I went straight down the middle of the park starting through the quiet campground with no campers in sight. The touch-and-go airfield is nearby, but thankfully, the jets weren’t flying. Coming to a closed gate I found there was enough room on one side to allow access for a bike, a horse, or a wheelchair. I went around, too.
The Rhodie Road is a paved, one lane road for service vehicles, though I’d never seen one there. Piles of horse manure in different stages of decay marked their passing, though I didn’t see them either. In fact, I didn’t see anyone on my walk through the park. But I heard spotted towhee, robins and crows calling through the forest. A Pacific wren sang proudly from the tip top of a snag. There was space here, between the branches, and gaps in the canopy that let in light and air through which the rhodies climbed, twisted and bloomed.
I walked almost a mile to the end of the park where I came to Patmore Road. After a short walk on the shoulder, I turned back into the park. The south end has ball fields, a playground and a picnic shelter, the perfect place for a little league game, family reunion or 4th of July BBQ. Behind the parking lot, I discovered the trail back into the woods and found myself returning to the Rhodie Road. It was so easy walking here in the shade, no roots or rocks to step over. It would be a pleasant jog with a baby stroller, an extension to the bike trail by the highway, a horseback ride, or a stroll for someone using a wheelchair or walker.
Nearing the end of my walk, I encountered a couple coming toward me. They looked tiny between the tall trees. We greeted each other warmly and then continued. As I turned around, I saw them in the distance, holding hands. It’s a good place to bring your sweetheart.
Here's a map of Rhododendron County Park.
Rhododendron County Park is at the east end of the Rhododendron Bike Trail that runs parallel to Highway 20 for 4 miles connecting with the Kettles Bike Trails. You can also find the trailhead to the new Walking Ebey Trail that zigzags through Central Whidbey to Admiralty Inlet Preserve. See the connections on this map:
Island Transit has a new bus route for Central Whidbey State Parks that goes into Fort Ebey and Fort Casey, with a stop at Ebey’s Landing from Memorial Day to Labor Day. It also stops in Coupeville and the Coupeville Ferry. Also new is Sunday service including Route 4 to Deception Pass State Park on Sundays. And its all fare-free. See the schedule here:
Directions: From Coupeville, drive 1.8 miles south on Highway 20 and turn right onto Park Road. To find the south entrance, drive 3.5 miles south of Coupeville on Highway 20 and turn right onto Patmore Road. Drive a half mile and turn right into the park at 502 West Patmore Road, Coupeville.
Bus and Bike: On weekdays fare-free Island Transit Route 1 stops at Jacobs Road going south and Quail Trail Lane going north near the park entrance. Two bikes fit on a bus bike rack. Island Transit does not pass the park on weekends. Pedestrians and bikes can take the Rhododendron Bike Trail from Coupeville, 2 miles south to Rhododendron Park. The park is accessible from Patmore Road on the south side which is a lightly traveled road. Please wear something bright if walking or riding a bike by the road.
Mobility: The Rhodie Road down the middle of Rhododendron County Park is accessible with a wide, paved surface. There is a gate in the campground with enough room to get around it in a wheelchair. Off Patmore Road on the south end of the park, the ball field and picnic shelter area has accessible restrooms and parking. Side trails are narrow, with roots, and not as well maintained.
"When you know the fourfoil in all its seasons, root and leaf and flower, by sight and scent and seed, then you may learn its true name, knowing its being: which is more than its use. What after all is the use of you? Or of myself?” Ursula Le Guin, Earth Sea Trilogy
It was a cloudy day, edging toward evening when I stopped for a walk at Pacific Rim Institute last Sunday. A man smiled as he headed for the fenced in beds. I went in the other direction.
Older island residents know it as the Pheasant Farm with its rows of white sheds that used to house the fancy feathered game birds. The Department of Fish and Wildlife still release pheasants nearby each fall for sport. We see them taking shelter inside the fence at Island Transit. But PRI uses the sheds for storage now. Whenever I walk there on the gravel farm road between the sheds, it reminds me of my grandparents’ farm. There are piles of firewood, stacked lumber, wire fencing, towers of plant pots, and other stuff in the sheds and barns. Like a working farm there are workers, sometimes in trucks or driving tractors. But it was quiet on my walk.
I made my way between the sheds and followed the farm road left around the barn, and then right alongside a lane of pines. Birds flitted about, singing from the fence line. Oregon grape bloomed and buttercups blossomed in a sea of green.
When I came to a sign saying Prairie Remnant I left the bending farm road and stepped lightly along a narrow trail. There were the tall blue stalks of camas, surrounded by yellow wildflowers. Behind a deer fence the rare Golden Paintbrush spread with abandon. This was called Smith Prairie for a time. Over the years the prairie had been overgrown with blackberries and wild rose. It has taken years of hard work cutting back the bushes and using controlled burns to reveal the precious prairie beneath. It’s a bit like restoring an old house, tearing away the shag carpet to find hard wood floors beneath.
Only 3% of Washington State is prairie, our most threatened ecosystem. The Pacific Rim Institute is restoring this 175-acre patch with many eager helpers. One five-acre piece had been relatively undisturbed since colonization and contained the precious biodiversity of several rare native plant species.
Taking a turn around the fenced Golden Paintbrush I saw a tree had been girdled so as to create a snag, good for bird and bug habitat. A Goldfinch sang from a wood pile where I saw rabbit sized tunnels at the base. A wren chatted from a bird box nearby as I made my last turn in the loop back to the farm road. From there I spied a cluster of pink shooting stars through the wire fence.
Heading back by the pines I turned toward the forest passing a grove of newly planted native Garry Oaks fenced to protect them from the deer. A kestrel sped off as I neared. An old barn marks the entrance to forest trails. I was looking for my favorite woodland flower, the Calypso Orchid. I’d seen it here the week before and pointed it out to a friend who lives nearby. She said they’d found someone picking these tiny treasures to make miniature bouquets. My mother was a naturalist and taught me early on, “Don’t pick the first flower. It may be the last.” I searched for the tiny pink blossoms but found none. Instead, I was cheered by the lush green of miners’ lettuce in bloom and fiddleheads unfurling like a slow motion dance.
Leaving the woods, I took the path back up toward my car as three deer crossed ahead of me. I passed the greenhouses and raised beds where volunteers work to propagate the native plants from seed. It’s like my loop trail brought me full circle, from flower to seed to flower again.
Visit Pacific Rim Institute for Prairie Days May 5 & 6 with talks, tours, and plants for sale, or for Native American Storytelling next week. For details click here.
Directions: From the stop light at Highway 20 and Main Street in Coupeville, go south 2.8 miles and turn left onto Morris Road. Then take the next left onto Parker Road. Pacific Rim Institute is less than a half mile on the right at 180 Parker Road, Coupeville.
Bike and Bus: Fare-Free Island Transit Route 1 will stop at Morris Road Monday - Friday. From there it's a half mile walk or bike ride on Parker Road which has light traffic. Two bikes fit on a bus bike rack. Please wear bright clothes while biking on the road.
Mobility: The old farm road around the site is mostly smooth and flat, though not paved.
A walk in the woods is inspiring. The moist mosses and ferns, the tall swaying trees, the textures and patterns of leaves, sticks, rocks on the trail, the shapes and size and color of plants and fungi, and the sound and movement of birds, deer and other animals. All of it stirs my senses, captures my heart and imagination. They say a walk outside gets the creative juices flowing. So sometimes I don’t appreciate the manmade elements we bring and leave behind that interrupt my experience on a forest walk.
I say sometimes, because sometimes those manmade elements add to my natural experience. Take, for instance, a cairn on a rocky trail or a beach walk. I’ve seen cairns built as directional aids where they are sorely needed. And cairns of no practical use, but are organic works of art showing balance, patience and harmony. I can appreciate that. So, to be honest, a walk at the Price Sculpture Forest in Coupeville is mixed for me.
I’m one of those dinosaurs that are slow to embrace all the technological trends currently available. I enjoy leaving them behind whenever possible. So when I arrived at Price Sculpture Forest early one Saturday morning, I was rolling my eyes at the signs at the entrance with their QR codes that link your smart phone with their website for a guided tour with videos of the artists. I didn’t link up. I turned and started walking… taking pictures with my smartphone.
The first piece I saw was a sculpture called Water by an artist I’d met and seen in action in her studio. She works with a diamond bladed saw. I could picture her at work while I ran my hand over the smooth glossy stone. A figure looking like a discus thrower greeted me at the start of the trail. Soon after I came upon a wide, low, arrangement that seems to have erupted from the forest floor, like a fairy ring.
I heard something moving through the salal and stood still waiting. Three deer moved closer and crossed the trail in front of me one by one. Kinglets chatted overhead. A woodpecker drilled nearby. Ravens called in the distance. I wondered what they thought of this gallery in their forest home.
As I continued I found eagles soaring, horses galloping and salmon swimming through the trees. A colorful bouquet made of stop light lenses and garden tools tickled my fancy. Some large abstract metal sculptures I think would look more at home in a city square. One looks like an alien space ship that’s just landed looking… alien. I realized I generally like the pieces that are more organic, like my surroundings. My very favorite is an actual log that looks as if it fell across the trail and exploded into a burst of four inch square blocks. It’s on both sides of the trail with enough space to walk through it. Incredible! Imaginative! Inspirational!
I like the T-rex, made of driftwood that waits with a toothy grin to excite the next one down the trail. It’s just the right height for kids to encounter. Once they stop screaming, they reach into that gaping maw and feel each pointy tooth, giggling all the while. Art is supposed to elicit a reaction, right?
What I truly appreciate about Price Sculpture Forest is that it has something for everyone. It sounds like a cliché, but really. The trail is a figure eight and the upper loop is accessible for those with mobility challenges. Volunteers have been carefully building the trail a little wider and smoother each year. Benches provide a place to rest if you need a few minutes. Thank you.
For those with little interest in “hiking” or “nature” there are the art pieces. I’d expect that every visitor finds several they like. And the QR code guided tour may be another way to pull some people in. They ask for your comments in a book at the end of the trail, or you can submit them online. Kids can leave a drawing which is another art piece for the growing forest gallery. I liked the pileated woodpecker on a post where you can leave a donation, or you can make a contribution with your digital wallet. Whatever you’re feelings toward technology, you can connect with the trail in your own way, plugged in or unplugged, however you wish.
Learn more here.
Directions: From Highway 20 at the light in Coupeville, turn north on Main Street. Turn right on 9th (which changes to Parker Road) and drive or walk the pedestrian path 1.6 miles to Price Sculpture Forest.
By Bike or Bus: Take fare free Island Transit Route 1 or 6 to Coupeville. Two bikes fit on a bus bike rack. Step off the bus at 9th Street and walk or bike east. There’s a steep hill at the edge of town. A gravel path parallels the road for safe walking. If riding a bike, the speed limit is low and traffic is light on this road. Wear something bright if traveling by bike. A bike rack is provided.
Mobility: The upper loop of the trail is smooth and wide enough for wheelchairs. The lower loop is more steep but well maintained.
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