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Whidbey Island
Nickname: "The Rock"
Geography
Location Puget Sound
Area 168.67 sq mi (436.9 km2)
Length 58 mi (93 km)
Width 12 mi (19 km)
Administration
United States
Demographics
Population 58,211
Pop. density 133.25 /km2 (345.12 /sq mi)
Whidbey 2
Cultus Bay at Low Tide
Whidbey Island
Double Bluff, with Useless Bay to the South (right) and Mutiny Bay to the North (left)

Whidbey Island (historical spellings Whidby, Whitbey, or Whitby) is the largest of the islands composing Island County, Washington, in the United States. (The other large island is Camano Island, east of Whidbey.) Whidbey is about 30 miles (48 km) north of Seattle, and lies between the Olympic Peninsula and the I-5 corridor of western Washington. The island forms the northern boundary of Puget Sound. It is home to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

Whidbey Island is home to 58,211 residents (according to the 2000 census). An estimated 29,000 of Whidbey Island residents live in rural locations.

Whidbey Island is approximately 55 miles (89 km) long (from the extreme north to extreme south), and 1.5 to 12 miles (2.4 to 19.3 km) wide, with a total land area of 168.67 square miles (436.9 km2), making it the 40th largest island in the United States. It is ranked as the fourth longest and fourth largest island in the contiguous United States, behind Padre Island, Texas (the world's longest barrier island); Long Island; and Isle Royale, Michigan. In the state of Washington, it is the largest island, followed by Orcas Island.

History

Whidbey Island was once inhabited by members of the Lower Skagit, Swinomish, Suquamish, Snohomish and other Native American tribes. The first known European sighting of Whidbey Island was during the 1790 Spanish expedition of Manuel Quimper and Gonzalo López de Haro on the Princesa Real. The island was fully explored in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver. In May of that year, Royal Navy officers and members of Vancouver's expedition, Joseph Whidbey and Peter Puget, began to map and explore the areas of what would later be named Puget Sound. After Whidbey circumnavigated the island in June 1792, Vancouver named the island in his honor.

The first known overnight stay on Whidbey Island by a non-Native American was made on May 26, 1840 by a Catholic missionary during travel across Puget Sound.

Lieutenant Charles Wilkes, commander of the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838–1842, sailed the USS Vincennes into Penn Cove in 1841. There he found the largest Native settlement on Puget Sound fenced garden. Wilkes named the lower cove Holmes Harbor, after his assistant surgeon, Silas Holmes.

In 1850, Colonel Isaac N. Ebey became the first permanent white settler on Whidbey Island, claiming a square mile (2.6 km²) of prairie with a southern shoreline on Admiralty Inlet. Even though he was farming potatoes and wheat on his land, he was also the postmaster for Port Townsend, Washington and rowed a boat daily across the inlet in order to work at the post office there. On August 11, 1857, Colonel Ebey was murdered by Haida who traveled from the Queen Charlotte Islands when he was 39 years old. Ebey was slain in proxy-retaliation for the killing of a Haida chief at Port Gamble. Fort Ebey, named for the Colonel, was established in 1942 on the west side of the central part of the island, just northwest of Coupeville.

Admiralty Head Lighthouse is located in this area, on the grounds of Fort Casey State Park. The area around Coupeville is the federally protected Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, named in honor of Isaac Ebey.

In 1984, the island was the site of a violent encounter between law enforcement and white nationalist and organized crime leader Robert Jay Mathews. A large shootout occurred between Mathews and FBI agents in which Mathews was killed in a house fire. Mathews' followers have since gathered on the island at the location where he was killed by FBI agents on the anniversary of his death to commemorate it.

Geography

Whidbey Island is often claimed to be the longest island in the continental United States (or another similar claim), but according to the Seattle Times it cannot be correctly considered so. Whidbey Island has four lakes that are part of its interior hydrology: Cranberry Lake (inside Deception Pass State Park), Deer Lake (inside Deer Lake Park), Goss Lake and Lone Lake (both near the town of Langley).

Parks and reserve areas

Whidbey Island contains Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, the first national historic reserve in the US created by the National Park Service to preserve the rural history and culture of the island and to protect the area's rare and sensitive plants.

Washington State Parks located on the island include Deception Pass State Park (the most visited state park in Washington), Joseph Whidbey State Park, Fort Ebey State Park, Fort Casey State Park, Possession Point State Park, and South Whidbey Island State Park. There is also a series of county operated parks throughout the Island.

Earth Sanctuary is a nature reserve, sculpture garden and retreat center on Whidbey Island. The ponds and bog fen complex have been designated as a “habitat of local importance” by the Whidbey Audubon Society and Island County Critical Areas program.

Festivals

Whidbey Island hosts many festivals and celebrations throughout the year.

  • Whidbey Island Area Fair ("Island County Fair" until 2012), on the third weekend of August, includes rides, food, and animal shows.
  • Wag'n'Walk, which takes place towards the end of August, is Western Washington's premier celebration of dogs and things dog-related. It includes vendors, games, competition, demonstrations and the Wag'n'Walk itself.
  • Whidbey Island Kite Festival, in September
  • Langley's Mystery Weekend in March or February. For the weekend the Town of Langley turns into the setting of a fictional murder mystery.
  • Penn Cove Mussel Festival, in March, celebrates the bounty of the sea, especially the mussel.
  • Loganberry Festival at the Greenbank Farm in July
  • Maxwelton Beach Fourth of July Parade and fireworks show, which takes place at the southern end of Maxwelton Road at Dave Mackie Park. After the parade, there are events for all ages, including three-legged races, divided into age groups, and the most popular event, the egg toss.
  • Choochokam is the annual street fair and arts festival, held in downtown Langley during the second weekend of July, detailed schedules and other information is generally available on the festival website.
  • Tour de Whidbey, in September, is a bike race spanning the length of Whidbey Island.
  • The Whidbey Island Marathon and Half Marathon, in April since 2002.
  • Whidbey Island Race Week: a week-long sailing regatta every summer based out of Oak Harbor with daily racing in Penn Cove and/or Saratoga Passage (depending on wind conditions). Usually held third week of July, varies slightly due to tidal conditions.
  • Whidbey Island Highland Games - 2nd Saturday in August. Competitions in Scottish Heavy Athletics, Highland Dancing, Pipe and drum bands.
  • Whidbey Island Zucchini Festival - An annual festival hosted by residents of Whidbey island brought about by an excess of home-grown zucchini. The festival includes zucchini based musical performances, various types of zucchini based or themed visual art, all types of foods that feature zucchini, outdoor games and competitions using zucchini, and a giant zucchini slingshot.
  • Oak Harbor Music Festival - An annual music festival held in the biggest city on the island, Oak Harbor. It is held over Labor Day Weekend, and consists of a wide variety of musical acts.

Climate

Fort Casey Cliff
A cliff on Whidbey Island near Fort Casey

Whidbey Island lies partially in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountain Range to the west, and has a variety of climate zones. This can be observed by rainfall amounts – wettest in the south with average rainfall of 36 inches (910 mm), driest in the central district of Coupeville with average rainfall of 20 to 22 inches (510 to 560 mm), and turning moister again farther north with average rainfall of 32 inches (810 mm). Microclimates abound, determined by proximity to water, elevation and prevailing winds.

Climate data for Whidbey Island NAS (1981−2010 normals)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Average high °F (°C) 46.8
(8.22)
48.9
(9.39)
52.2
(11.22)
55.6
(13.11)
59.5
(15.28)
63.6
(17.56)
66.5
(19.17)
67.3
(19.61)
64.0
(17.78)
57.2
(14)
50.3
(10.17)
45.5
(7.5)
56.5
(13.61)
Average low °F (°C) 36.2
(2.33)
35.4
(1.89)
38.4
(3.56)
41.5
(5.28)
46.1
(7.83)
50.0
(10)
52.1
(11.17)
51.8
(11)
48.0
(8.89)
43.2
(6.22)
39.2
(4)
35.1
(1.72)
43.1
(6.17)
Precipitation inches (mm) 2.23
(56.6)
1.47
(37.3)
1.67
(42.4)
1.65
(41.9)
1.56
(39.6)
1.28
(32.5)
0.74
(18.8)
0.96
(24.4)
1.15
(29.2)
2.07
(52.6)
3.40
(86.4)
2.11
(53.6)
20.29
(515.4)
Snowfall inches (cm) 0.9
(2.3)
1.5
(3.8)
0.1
(0.3)
0.1
(0.3)
0.0
(0)
0.0
(0)
0.0
(0)
0.0
(0)
0.0
(0)
0.0
(0)
0.9
(2.3)
1.7
(4.3)
5.2
(13.2)
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 16.4 10.7 11.5 11.9 10.0 5.9 3.7 3.8 4.1 12.6 20.7 17.3 144.7
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 1.0 0.5 0.1 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.4 0.9 2.9
Source: NOAA

Ecology

Flora

Vegetation varies greatly from one end of the island to the other. Vegetation in the south is more similar to that of mainland Washington. The principal trees are Douglas fir, red alder, bigleaf maple, western red cedar, and western hemlock. Compared to the rest of western Washington state, vine maple is notably absent, except where they have been planted. Other under-story plants include the evergreen huckleberry, lower longleaf Oregon grape, elderberry, salal, oceanspray, and varieties of nettle. Non-native introduced plants such as foxglove, ivy and holly are also evident.

Farther up the island, however, the shorter Oregon-Grape and the blue Evergreen Huckleberry is seen less, while tall Oregon-grape and Red Huckleberry predominate. The native Pacific rhododendron is much more visible. Amongst the deciduous varieties, Garry oak (from which Oak Harbor takes its name) are seen more frequently in the northern portion of the island and Pacific madrone is also notably present. In the conifer classification, grand fir is found more in the northern part of Whidbey Island along with Sitka spruce and shore pine. There are three open prairie areas on Whidbey Island – Smith Prairie, Crockett Prairie and Ebey Prairie. Interestingly, some patches of prickly pear cactus are found along the slopes near Partridge Point.

Fauna

Gray whales migrate between Whidbey and Camano Islands during March and April and can be seen from both ship and shore. Orca also make use of the waters surrounding Whidbey Island.

Clams and Oysters are abundant locally and may be harvested from some public beaches. The Washington State Department of Health provides an online guide to assist in identifying shellfish varieties as well as providing guidance about where to find specific varieties.

Communities

North to south:

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