The Freeland community surrounding south Holmes Harbor deserves congratulations for its years-long effort to clean up the drainage sources leading into the harbor.
As a result of the effort, there is hope that Freeland Park can be opened as early as next fall to more activities, such as swimming, wading and clam digging. The latter may have to be done by lantern light as low tides move into the evening hours.
Since roughly 2007, the park use has been confined to the launching of boats and family picnics around the play area. Soon, hopefully, it will become a full-fledged waterfront park again.
Some of the lowest tides of the season occurred last weekend, dipping to minus 3.4 feet Monday. Families should have been enjoying the day digging clams and bringing home their bounty for steaming or grinding into chowder. Instead, there was a vast expanse of unpeopled beach with all it offerings out of reach. Even wading in the shallow water or tide pools was advised against, due to worries about fecal coliform contamination.
Such worries seem to be nearing an end, thankfully. The state Department of Health is pleased with the local effort to clean up Holmes Harbor under the leadership of Island County Public Health with help from the Whidbey Island Conservation District, environmental groups and just plain residents who care about their environment.
Septic tanks were checked and faulty ones repaired or replaced. People were encouraged to pick up after their dogs and plastic bags provided for their convenience. Hobby farmers adopted plans to manage their animal waste and keep barnyard animals away from drainage areas. Informational mailings told residents how to wash their cars and care for their lawns without risking runoff of oil, pesticides and herbicides. Bare spots were planted with ground cover, preventing tainted dirt from washing into Holmes Harbor.
These efforts over time resulted in vastly improved fecal coliform testing results. From the various drainage areas the coliform count was reduced as much as 82 percent, with most of the rest 60 percent or better. Only one area showed a slight increase.
The community is clearly on the right track. Once Holmes Harbor is declared clean, it will become an example to other Puget Sound communities that it can be done: Just pitch in and work together like it was done in Freeland.