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County sets Southend rockin'

A giant boulder torn from the top of Fidalgo Island's Mount Erie sometime during the last ice age became the property of the Island County Parks Department this week.

Rivaling Coupeville's "Big Rock" in terms of size, the glacially-transported boulder has long been hidden deep in the woods between Lone Lake Road and Saratoga Road. On Monday, the Island County Board of Commissioners accepted the boulder and the quarter acre of land it sits upon as a donation from the Waterman Trust and added it to the recently-gifted Saratoga Woods Park.

Phil Pearl, a Langley resident who specializes in conservation land transfers, did the legal work to transfer the rock on behalf of the Friends of Saratoga Woods and the Whidbey-Camano Land Trust. In addition to negotiating the rock transfer, Pearl also oversaw the donation of a 50-foot easement through another nearby property to connect the Saratoga Woods parkland with DNR trust land on Lone Lake Road. The easement will allow the county to build a trail to connect trail systems in Saratoga Woods and on the state land.

Of the two transfers, the boulder property has the marquee value. Standing more than 40 feet high and with a footprint the size of a large house, the rock is one of the largest glacial erratics in the Puget Sound region, according to Clinton geologist Terry Swanson. Moved to South Whidbey by a glacier about 15,000 years ago, the greenstone boulder looks more like an isolated cliff face than something that was picked up and moved.

Lee McFarland, director of the county parks department, said he plans to put a sign up by the rock warning people to not climb its sheer faces. County employees will also remove a rope and anchor that have long been used by the adventurous to climb to the top of the boulder.

Other than that, McFarland said, he doesn't want to make any changes around the boulder.

"It will be kind of low key, like it's always been," he said.

The rock now becomes part of a larger project on the Saratoga Woods property. Pearl said the Friends of Saratoga Woods plan to fund a number of improvements in the park, including a parking area, the renovation of two old buildings, and the construction of a trail system. McFarland said the county will give some labor toward some improvements at the park, but will have to leave most of the costly work to the Friends due to budget constraints.

"The Friends will probably have to absorb the initial cost," Pearl said.

Other improvements will include a path and stairway to Saratoga Woods beach property that is part of the woods parcel.

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