Whidbey Island (historical spelling Whidby) is one of nine islands located in Island County, Washington, in the United States. Whidbey is located about 30 miles (50 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.
Whidbey Island is home to 58,211 residents (according to the 2000 census), also known as Whidbey Islanders. An estimated 29,000 of Whidbey Islanders live in rural locations.
Whidbey Island is between 36 miles (58 km) and 62 miles (100 km) long (from the extreme north to extreme south, depending on the source of the measurement), and 1.5 to 12 miles (2 to 18 km) wide, with 168.67 mi² (436.85 km²), making it the 40th largest island in the United States. It is ranked as the fifth longest and fifth largest island in the contiguous United States, behind Padre Island, Texas (the world's longest barrier island); Long Island; and Isle Royale, Michigan. In Washington, it is the largest island, followed by Bainbridge Island.
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 Indian settlement of Puget Sound and noted that a mission had been started with a two acre 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 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 and beheaded by Haida Indians who travelled from the Queen Charlotte Islands. Ebey was 39 years old. Ebey was slain in retaliation for the killing of a Haida chief at Port Gamble. Fort Ebey was established in 1942 on the west side of the central part of the island, just northwest of Coupeville. The fort was named in honor of Colonel Ebey. The house that Ebey lived in with his family still stands, above the beachhead known as Ebey's Landing.
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. White supremecists have reportedly gathered on the island at the location where he was killed by FBI agents on the anniversary of his death to commemorate it.
Population centers of Whidbey Island include the City of Oak Harbor, the Town of Coupeville, the City of Langley, the Village of Freeland, the Community of Greenbank, the Village of Clinton and the Community of Bayview. Only Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Langley are incorporated.
The economy of the northern end of Whidbey Island is strongly influenced by the presence of Whidbey Island Naval Air Station near Oak Harbor (N.A.S. Whidbey). N.A.S. Whidbey is Oak Harbor’s largest employer; thus, Oak Harbor has a predominately service based economy and several national chain stores have been attracted to the Oak Harbor area.
The economy of Whidbey Island south of Oak Harbor relies heavily on tourism related commerce, small-scale agriculture, and the arts.
Tourism is especially important for both Whidbey and Camano Islands. On Whidbey, tourists find a wide range of amenities in the towns of Oak Harbor, Coupeville, Freeland and Langley. Whidbey and Camano Islands are in Island County. While many websites have information about these islands, Island County's official tourism website is www.WhidbeyCamanoIslands.com. Coupeville's Penn Cove Mussel Farm exports large quantities of its highly renowned Penn Cove Mussels. This aquaculture facility, along with a number of small farms, reflects the rural agricultural nature of most of central Whidbey Island.
Often referred to as Puget Sound's Largest Artist's Colony, Whidbey is home to numerous working artists, writers, and performers. These include many well-known painters, sculptors, glass artists, wood workers, metal workers, mixed media artists, photographers, authors, poets, actors, and musicians.
In addition to being a haven for artists, the southern end of Whidbey Island also serves as a minor bedroom community for the nearby cities of Everett, where the Paine Field Boeing plant is located, and Seattle. Commuters to and from those areas use the Washington State Ferries system's run between Clinton and Mukilteo.
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, and South Whidbey State Park.
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 30 inches (760 mm), driest in the central district of Coupeville with average rainfall of 18 to 20 inches (460 to 510 mm), and turning moister again farther north with average rainfall of 26 inches (660 mm). Microclimates abound, determined by proximity to water, elevation and prevailing winds. Additional variation comes from soil type. The sandy clay and gravely soils of the southern end of the island give way to soils composed of mostly rock at the northern end of the island.
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-firs, red alders, bigleaf maples, western redcedar, and western hemlocks with the exception of Vine maples that are notably absent, except where they have been planted. Other under-story plants include the Evergreen Huckleberry, lower longleaf Oregon-grape, red elderberries, salal, oceanspray, and nettles. Non-native introduced plants such as foxgloves, ivies and hollies 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. Garry oaks (from which Oak Harbor takes its name) become quite common deciduous trees. Pacific madrone are also notably present. Grand firs are seen more often. Sitka spruces and shore pines also increase in the conifer mix. There are three open prairie areas on Whidbey Island: Smith, Crockett and Ebey's Prairie. Interestingly, some patches of Prickly-Pear cactus are found along the slopes near Partridge Point.
Gray whales migrate between Whidbey and Camano Islands during March and April of each year and can be seen from both ship or shore.
South Whidbey School District serves the southern end of the island, including Freeland, Clinton, Bayview, and Langley. Within the district, there is one High School (9-12), one Alternative High School (9-12), one Middle School (6-8), one Intermediate School (3-5), and one Primary School (K-2), and the Whidbey Island Academy (K-12).
Skagit Valley College has a campus located in Oak Harbor, and a limited service campus in South Whidbey.
Travel on the island involves use of an extensive county road system, or city infrastructure depending on location, all of which act as feeders to the two state highways State Route 525 and State Route 20.
Public transportation is provided by Island Transit, which provides a zero-fare bus service paid for by a 6/10th of 1% sales tax within the county. There are currently 10 bus routes serving Whidbey Island. Limited service is available on Saturdays (only 4 routes), and buses do not run on Sunday or major holidays.
Two public airports provide service to Whidbey Island. Whidbey Air Park is located 2 miles (3 km) southwest of Langley with a 2470 ft (753 m) long runway. Oak Harbor Airpark is located 3 miles (5 km) southwest of Oak Harbor with a 3265 ft (995 m) long runway. In addition, there are approximately half dozen private dirt strips on the island. Kenmore Air Express restarted scheduled airline service to Whidbey Island in 2006, serving the Oak Harbor airport. Kenmore Air Express offers daily scheduled airline service to Seattle and free connections to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.
The United States Navy operates two airports on Whidbey Island. The largest is a two-runway airport located at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station north of Oak Harbor. In addition, the Navy also operates a flight training facility named Coupeville Outlying Landing Field (Coupeville OLF) located just southeast of Coupeville. The Navy named USS Whidbey Island (LSD-41) in honor of the island.
Whidbey General Hospital is the regional, county-run hospital. Located in Coupeville, the hospital has extension clinics in both Clinton and Oak Harbor. The Naval Air Station in Oak Harbor has a limited service hospital for military personnel, veteran retirees and their dependents only.