Clinton’s iconic welcome sign will stay where it is

Clinton’s famous sign, created in 1991, is located across from the Clinton ferry dock. A community protest has prevented the sign from being moved. - Brian Kelly / Record file
Clinton’s famous sign, created in 1991, is located across from the Clinton ferry dock. A community protest has prevented the sign from being moved.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / Record file

When it comes to welcome signs, there’s apparently always room for one more.

Bowing to a late surge of public pressure, county officials will leave Clinton’s venerable “Welcome to Whidbey Island” sign where it is instead of moving it up the highway to Campbell Road.

And they’ll put a new sign marking the island’s scenic route near the old one, on the same steep bank, on the same side of the street.

“This is a good win for our community,” Island County Commissioner Helen Price Johnson said Tuesday, announcing the decision.

Officials said the new sign will probably be installed sometime next month.

“I’m delighted they’re leaving the art sign where it is,” Rufus Rose of Clinton said Tuesday. Rose was instrumental in getting the original sign placed, and was vocal in opposition to its relocation.

Price Johnson said a public meeting scheduled for Thursday is still on, and she urged community members to attend.

“It’s important people still go to the meeting,” Rose agreed. “Otherwise, they may think we don’t care anymore.”

Bill Oakes, county public works director, said Tuesday the new sign will probably be located next to the carved sign, but the exact location is yet to be determined.

Some suggested the new sign be placed below the original sign, but Oakes said there was some concern about putting it too close to the roadway.

He said a conference call with state Department of Transportation officials on Monday determined that the new sign could be placed in another part of the highway right-of-way without violating permits already obtained for the project.

“It was great the DOT could be flexible,” Oakes said. “I think this is a good compromise.”

It all started with a federal grant received in 2006 to create a Whidbey Island Scenic Way. Anchoring the project were to be three steel “monument” signs erected at the island’s points of entry: Clinton, Keystone and Deception Pass.

Through a series of public meetings, state and county officials determined that the best location for the Clinton monument would be the exact spot where the 18-year-old carved welcome sign sits across from the entrance to the Clinton Ferry Terminal.

In 2008, it was determined that the cedar sign should be moved to a spot along Highway 525 at Campbell Road.

Bids were submitted, contracts signed and a schedule prepared for the new signs.

But a number of South End residents were apparently taken by surprise. Last month, an uproar ensued over the proposed relocation of the carved sign, and more than 1,500 signatures were gathered on a petition protesting its removal.

Some of the artists who worked on the sign back in 1991 declared it had become too fragile to be moved, and that the new location would subject it to damage from weather, traffic and vandalism.

A community group, Save Our Sign Coalition, was hastily formed late last month, and it pressed for keeping the carved sign where it is, threatening court action if necessary.

“We’re thrilled,” Ed Jenkins, who spearheaded the coalition, said Tuesday. “It was a great victory.”

Jenkins praised the efforts of Price Johnson.

“She was involved every step of the way and was willing to listen,” he said. “She did what we asked her to do. What more can you ask of a public official?”

The ornate 10-foot-by-20-foot sign features a log cedar oval with carved eagles, porpoises, otters and other creatures, and a ferry.

The new steel sign features a map of Whidbey Island and the proclamation “Whidbey Scenic Isle Way,” with a line underneath reading “Welcome to Clinton.”

Oakes said steel has been located for the new signs, and they probably will be delivered in November. Price Johnson said installation of the three new signs will begin at Deception Pass and continue to Keystone, and then to Clinton.

Price Johnson said the public meeting scheduled this week at Clinton will still be held in order to get out as much information about the project as possible.

“There’s still a good reason to hold the meeting,” said Price Johnson, who will attend. “Folks have been wanting better communication.”

The meeting will be at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 8, at Clinton Community Hall, 6411 Central Ave.

Meanwhile, Oakes said of the concrete slab donated by the Port of South Whidbey to anchor the relocated carved sign: “It’s probably just going to stay there.”

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