County moves to end camping at Ebey’s Landing

There’s been an explosion of unregulated campers leaving trash, gray water and animal feces at Ebey’s.

Island County is taking action to curb visitors from camping at a Central Whidbey Island park renowned for its views of Admiralty Inlet and the Olympic Mountains.

Karen Bishop, a neighbor of Ebey’s Landing, spoke about her concerns at an Island County Board of Commissioners meeting last week. She explained that there’s been an explosion of unregulated campers who are leaving garbage, gray water and animal feces behind on the pristine beach.

Ebey’s Landing is a state park with a small parking lot, a rustic restroom and a trail that travels along a windblown bluff and the beach below. Hill Road runs along a short section of Ebey’s Landing; both the county road and the adjacent beach are under county jurisdiction, according to the county engineer.

Bishop said anywhere from a half dozen to 18 cars may be parked along the road overnight as many of the occupants camp on the rocky shore.

“It’s becoming a sanitary issue,” she said, explaining that campers will stay for weeks on end.

In addition, people who want to go to the beach to go fishing or hike the bluff trail may not be able to find a place to park, even early in the morning.

“I don’t think the community is willing to lose this beach to really a bunch of freeloaders,” she said.

Bishop asked the commissioners to put up signs to restrict parking on the section of road.

Commissioner Melanie Bacon said that the county prosecutor advised her against putting up signs without a change in county code, which currently doesn’t prohibit parking at the site.

Commissioner Jill Johnson, however, said the county puts up signage all the time without getting permission from the prosecutor.

After a brief discussion, the commissioners unanimously decided to move ahead with temporary signs restricting parking from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Public Works Director Bill Oakes explained in an interview that parking restrictions on the temporary signs won’t be legally enforceable by sheriff’s deputies since they’re not currently backed up in county code, but officials are hoping “peer pressure” will be effective.

In addition, Oakes said a county engineer is working on a code change to make the parking restrictions permanent and enforceable. It will take some time, as it would need to go through the prosecutor’s office and then a public process, including a public hearing.

Camping on the beach is also a likely public health violation since state law prohibits the discharge of “gray water” or other liquids in the vicinity of a body of water. Theresa Sanders with Island County Public Health said the department is charged with enforcement, but she was unsure if the county has received any complaints yet.

A 2019 decision by the Ninth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals says that enforcing rules prohibiting a person from camping on public property is a violation of the Eight Amendment if a person is homeless and does not have a reasonable alternative for shelter. There is no indication, however, that people camping at Ebey’s Landing are homeless.

Bishop said many different travel-type blogs describe it as a scenic place where people can camp for free. She suggested that local tourism groups could reach out and try to clear up the misperception.

Oakes said he suggested to state parks personnel that it would be a good idea to expand the parking lot — which is closed at night and requires a Discover Pass — to make it easier for people to visit.

Ebey’s Landing got its name as it was the original eastern terminus for a ferry route that ran between Central Whidbey and Port Townsend in the 1850s and ’60s. Isaac Ebey owned a farmstead at Ebey’s Landing and had successfully lobbied to have the port of entry for the nation moved from Olympia to Port Townsend to make travel more convenient for him, according to the National Park Service.