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SEA the future with South Whidbey park, group partnership

Damian Gallegos, a 7 year-old Greenbank boy [left], explores freshwater runoff on the beach at South Whidbey State Park. He and about 50 others attended Celebrate the Water, an event marking a one-year anniversary of a public/private park partnership. - Justin Burnett / The Record
Damian Gallegos, a 7 year-old Greenbank boy [left], explores freshwater runoff on the beach at South Whidbey State Park. He and about 50 others attended Celebrate the Water, an event marking a one-year anniversary of a public/private park partnership.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

A public/private partnership that some say is the future of state park stewardship was commemorated at South Whidbey State Park on Sunday.

A crowd numbering more than 50 people attended Celebrate the Water, an event marking the one-year anniversary of the partnership among SEA, — Service, Education, Adventure — Calyx Community Arts School, Friends of South State Park and Washington State Parks. Although autonomous of each other and with different missions, the organizations have for the past year worked for a similar objective: to maintain, bring attention to and use South Whidbey State Park as a teaching tool for future generations.

According to park leaders, the result has exceeded all expectations. The park is utilized by students every week, and projects once sidelined for lack of funding are getting done.

“This park has seen more attention in the last year than it has in decades,” said Jon Crimmins, area manager for Central Whidbey state parks.

Calyx, which is described as a 347-acre classroom at South Whidbey State Park, moved into the former ranger house this past September. Working with SEA and the state, the school aims to provide “a nature-based, arts-rich, service-learning environment to support children’s intellectual, physical, and emotional development” for students ages 5-8, according to Calyx’s website. Justin Burnett / The Record | Coupeville resident Roland Garrett, 8, shows a crab he found at South Whidbey State Park beach Sunday, May 25.

SEA’s mission is to “promote engagement with community and spirited environmental stewardship by connecting youth and adults in real-world learning and meaningful service in the Puget Sound region” while Friends of South Whidbey State Park works to help the state maintain the park amid funding cutbacks.

Their collective efforts of education and maintenance are instilling a knowledge and love of state parks and the environment, but also helping to keep the doors open, said Eric Watilo, the regional manager for state parks.

“This partnership has helped breathe new life into South Whidbey State Park,” Watilo said. “I believe this will be our future model [of public/private park stewardship].”

Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson, who attended Sunday’s celebration, said she was a teenager when the community stopped loggers from harvesting the area. That effort led to the parks formation in 1974. She noted that the partnership among the various groups being celebrated was also born from difficult times when the economy was forcing the state to scale back park funding.

“This a great example of how opportunity comes out of crisis,” she said. “I really commend all the partners for coming together in such a positive way.”

Many who attended Celebrate the Water agreed, saying the interest the partnerships are instilling in the next generation for state parks and the environment is significant.

“I think it’s great,” said Diane Leganza, a Greenbank resident who was there with her 7-year-old grandson, Damian.

“I think it’s really important for them to not only have fun, but to respect the environment.”

 

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