Walking along South Whidbey’s Wilbert Trail on a summer day, the majesty of the 347-acre forest is easy to experience.
A short, five-minute trek from the road and visitors are only 5 yards away from an ancient guardian, a massive cedar tree that towers above the hundred-foot high canopy of South Whidbey State Park.
Keeping people from touching, and possibly harming the wooden sentinel, is a small fence. Keeping the rest of the short, 1.5-mile trail serviceable is the work of park staff and a growing group of dedicated volunteers.
There is work to be done in the state park, and people who volunteered for years recently organized into the Friends of South Whidbey State Park.
“There are so many special places there,” said Fletcher Davis, the acting president of the friends group.
“Our parks are backyards for people who don’t have backyards.”
That sense of stewardship drew about 75 people to a kickoff party for the Friends of South Whidbey State Park in mid-August. The group is working on formalizing itself as an official entity and a board of directors must be established before it can charge a membership fee — $12 for an individual, $20 for a family or $50 for an organization.
Davis and his wife, Elizabeth, have lived near the state park since 2000 at their Smugglers Cove Road home. In those 13 years — 17 counting part-time residency — the couple visited the park regularly for walks on Wilbert Trail. They lead tours along the well-trodden path that loops from the south entrance to the north entrance of the state park.
On their tours, they met and hosted people from across the country and the world, from Germany and Italy to British Columbia.
“It’s amazing how many people come there and from different parts of the world,” Davis said.
In the 2014-15 biennium, state parks are budgeted at $20.2 million in direct state funding, $7 million less than the Washington Parks and Recreation Commission requested.
The parks system turned 100 in March, and the birthday was less than ideal as funding continued to shrink due to poor Discover Pass sales, the $10 to $30 entry fees required to visit places like South Whidbey State Park or Deception Pass State Park.
Ranger Kevin Lease, who presides over South Whidbey State Park in the summer, said all camp sites were reserved for the Labor Day weekend and most weekends from June through mid-September in 2013. Overall campground reservations at the 47 spots, including eight that have power and water, Lease said, were up 10 percent.
The 60-person group camp site was booked every weekend from Memorial Day to September.
“It’s been a good outing this year,” Lease said.
With more visitors, however, comes more site and trail damage, which requires more work. Utilizing a friends group will alleviate some of the burden on an already reduced park staff.
“Having an organized friends group is something the park has always tried to get done,” Lease said.
While Friends of South Whidbey State Park has been created, the details of that relationship are still being hammered out.
Volunteers will likely operate as park greeters, interpretive guides and trail maintenance workers. Evidence of that work can be seen along the trails, with knocked down or blown over trees sawed into pieces and moved off the trail in several spots.
A pair of volunteers staffed the park’s visitor booth/store, selling a family firewood ahead of the Labor Day weekend.
“The friends group is a good way people can contribute and help out in the park,” Davis said.