|This stylish new kiosk is at Scenic Heights trailhead.|
It is our island's only real city, a place of pavement, people, parking lots, cars, box stores and fast food.
Driving north, Oak Harbor stands in sharp contrast to the forests, fields and wide-open landscapes of the south.
Over the years as Oak Harbor grew, you might say some of its original luster got overtaken by events. But many in the community today are thinking again about Oak Harbor Bay, the jewel that attracted people here in the first place and will do it again in the future.
For thousands of years the bay sustained fish, shellfish, trade and transportation for Coast Salish peoples and European settlers. That is Oak Harbor's rich heritage. But a big piece of the city's future economic vitality will depend on regaining a healthy, well-functioning shoreline, marine environment and accompanying outdoor lifestyle.
That's an attractive prospect for a forward-looking city.
Community leaders would like more people to think about these things as they experience the city on foot, getting to know its fresh air, views, heritage and livability. Part of the learning process includes interpretive signage along a three-mile shoreline trail that wraps around three sides of Oak Harbor Bay.
I feel a personal connection to the trail because I've been the writer for its interpretive signs, working closely with city staff and with South Whidbey watercolor artist, Kris Wiltse.
|The trail runs from Scenic Heights (left) to Maylor Point (bottom).|
Granted, part of that may be her sheer enthusiasm and big smile. She loves nature, fresh air, the outdoors and a brisk walk. Well, who doesn't?
I interviewed Maribeth and wrote about the trail in my book, Whidbey Island's Special Places.
On any given spring morning, birdsong fills the air as walkers and joggers wind their way past condominiums from Scenic Heights down a gentle path into a reclaimed marsh. Ulrich Freund homesteaded this land on the city's shore more than a century-and-a-half ago. Generations of Freunds farmed it till the 1990s.
|New panel at Scenic Heights. Click to enlarge.|
This particular urban experience is soothing to the eye, ear and psyche.
But out of sight and sound, the wetland is doing important work. It is biologically filtering storm water runoff that flows down from developed uplands, cleaning this water before it reaches Oak Harbor Bay.
The trail continues through waterfront parks and playgrounds, past Old Town shops and right through Oak Harbor Marina before crossing onto US Navy property for the final leg to Maylor Point, with its lovely views back toward downtown.
|Scenic Heights panel. Click to enlarge.|
Kris Wiltse was the designer and illustrator.
Later, Kris and I created two more signs that may be seen further down the trail at Flintstone Park. Oak Harbor Rotary partnered with the MRC on that installation.
The city liked the signs and hired Kris and me to produce three more focusing specifically on stormwater runoff and rain gardens. A demonstration rain garden is an important educational piece of the functional landscaping at the Scenic Heights trailhead today.
|This panel, created in 2008, is displayed on the Freund Marsh trail.|
Our contribution includes a circular panel displaying a map of the shoreline trail, plus a two-sided oblong panel. One side focuses on the bay's Coast Salish heritage, the other on its homesteading and settlement phase.
Here in Island County, the last several years have seen a big push to enrich the experience of residents and visitors with attractive signs that explain our marine environment, natural history, heritage, environment and social history.
|This panel focuses on stormwater education.|
Working as an independent contractor with the City of Oak Harbor, I've been privileged to write several others.
As you explore the island, I hope you'll watch for these signs and appreciate even more what a rich, diverse and magical place it is.