BY ELISA MILLLER
Ten years ago, when we were new to South Whidbey and exploring all the local, public trails, I heard there was a way to get to the upper end of the Dorothy Cleveland Trail by going up Nation Drive/Lupine Lane. There was a trailhead there, I was told, and a short walk to the same ridge viewpoint that we usually accessed from Possession Beach Park. But, I was also assured, there wasn’t any identifiable parking for that trailhead nor was there any identifying marker to make the trailhead easy to locate. We never found that route to the ridge top, and our parents and visitors for whom the access from the beach was too arduous never did enjoy what we knew was there.
Five years ago, in 2007, Port of South Whidbey commissioners were still trying to find a way to establish a small parking and access site for this upper trailhead of Cleveland Trail, opening the area for families, old and young. This effort to open up the upper end for public use never succeeded. It was not supported by ridge-top residents and without strong evidence of popular demand, the port’s efforts abated.
Then, starting in late 2009, port policy began to shift: accessing the Dorothy Cleveland Upper Trail became irrelevant. The new policy focused on a different matter: this land (this public park land) wasn’t producing any revenue. Suddenly the ridge top property, the Cleveland Upper Trail, was turned into a non-performing asset. But, the reasoning went, this asset could bring in some money if it were leased or sold. In 2009, port commissioners received an unsolicited proposal to lease the property for a cell tower. They answered they were interested.
Three years later, 2012, port commissioners are now ready to sign an agreement to allow AT&T to construct an access road and a 145-foot cell tower on a 40-by-40 concrete pad surrounded by a six-foot-high chain link fence on the public property at the ridgetop’s upper trail. Now there is a fuss.
The question, for me is, why are we, the public, giving up sacred park land when we have such few options for public land and when we can be sure AT&T will find another option for its cell tower. Why lose ground? How can the gain of $13,200 in annual port revenue (the total of five average annual property tax bills) pit itself as an equal in any way to the loss of public park land atop a magnificent ridge?
We cherish these puny acreages, these ever so slight, but invaluable public spaces. Assets that should have access points, access points for all — elderly, young, disabled — not just for the neighboring residents who know where to look. Without public space, there is no humility. Without public space we begin to believe that what I own is always and only mine, not and never yours. And we lose community, shared space, shared values, shared commitments.
Do not sign the lease agreement that would give use of this land to a private corporation.
Do not sign the purchase agreement that would give this land to a private individual. Keep the jewel. Another way will show itself.
Elisa Miller, a Clinton resident, served as president of the Clinton Progressive Association (CPA) in 2010. The CPA owns and operates Clinton Community Hall. She said facts stated above come from the minutes of the Port of South Whidbey during the years 2007 to the present.