Whidbey Island

From Academic Kids

Whidbey Island is an island in Puget Sound in Washington State, USA. It is home to an estimated 56,000 'Whidbey Islanders' or 'Islanders'. It is located about 30 miles (50 km) north of Seattle, and lies between the Olympic Peninsula and the I-5 corridor of western Washington. The west coast of the island looks toward the eastern entrance to the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Admiralty Inlet; Puget Sound is to the south; Possession Sound and Saratoga Passage are on the east; and Deception Pass on the north. It is approximately 45 miles (72 km) long (from the extreme north to extreme south), and 1.5 to 10 miles (2 to 16 km) wide. Whidbey Island is considered the longest island in the contiguous United States according to the Supreme Court ruling of February 1985 [1] (http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/cgi-bin/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=469&invol=504). Long Island, at 118 miles (190 km), was declared to be a peninsula.

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Whidbey Island


The island was once inhabited by members of the Skagit, Swinomish, Suquamish, Snohomish and other Native American tribes. Whidbey Island was discovered in 1790 by Captain George Vancouver. In May of that year, Joseph Whidbey along with Peter Puget began to map and explore the areas of Puget Sound. Whidbey circumnavigated Whidbey Island in June, and Capt. Vancouver named it after him.

The first known overnight stay on Whidbey Island was by Catholic missionary Father Blanchet, while traveling across Puget Sound, on 26 May 1840.

In 1850, Colonel Isaac Ebey became the first permanent European settler on Whidbey Island. He established Fort Ebey on the west side of the central part of the island (just northwest of Coupeville). He lived on the island, and rowed a boat daily to Port Townsend to work as postmaster. The Admiralty Head Lighthouse is located in this area. The area around Coupeville is the federally protected Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve in honor of Isaac Ebey.


Whidbey Island, along with Camano Island and a few uninhabited islands, comprises Island County, Washington. It also is the home of Island County's Seat of Government. However, Whidbey Island and Camano Island have no direct route of transportation without passing through another county, providing quite a conundrum for vital county-wide services.

There is a county hospital in Coupeville, and an extension clinic in Clinton. The Naval Air Station has a limited service hospital for military personnel and their dependents only.


Whidbey Island has a primarily agricultural economy. The north end is much more urbanized than the south end, primarily due to the presence of the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station near Oak Harbor (N.A.S. Whidbey). The air station is a dominant presence on the north end and has attracted many national chain stores to the Oak Harbor area. Further south, the island retains a rural atmosphere among its small towns, farmlands, acres of woods, and many state parks. The southern end serves as a minor bedroom community for the nearby city of Everett, where the Boeing plant is located, as well as Seattle.

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Carved sign welcoming visitors as they depart the ferry at Clinton.

It is connected to the mainland via a bridge to Fidalgo Island over Deception Pass at the northern end. There are ferry links at the south end (Clinton to Mukilteo) and the central western shore (Keystone to Port Townsend, on the Olympic Peninsula).

Whidbey Island is renowned for Penn Cove mussels. Washington State Parks located on the island include Deception Pass State Park, Fort Ebey State Park, Joseph Whidbey State Park, Fort Casey State Park, South Whidbey State Park, and Possession Point State Park.

Tourism is of some importance to the island. This is mostly true for the south end, especially the village of Langley, a summer and weekend destination for Seattleites. The motto "Do Nothing Here" touts the quiet and restful atmosphere to be found on the island.

Climate and Vegetation

Whidbey Island lies partially in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains to the west, and has a variety of climate zones. The most obvious are based on rainfall - wettest in the south with average rainfall of 30 inches (760 mm), driest south of Coupeville with average rainfall of 18 to 20 inches (460 to 510 mm), and moister again farther north with average rainfall of 26 inches (660 mm). Microclimates abound, determined by proximity to water, elevation and prevailing winds. Additional variation comes from soil type. The sandy clay and gravely soils of the south give way to dramatically rocky areas at the north end.

The result is that plant life also varies from one end of the island to the other. The vegetation in the south is more similar to that of the mainland. The principal trees are douglas-firs, red alders, bigleaf maples, western redcedar, and western hemlocks. Vine maples are notably absent, except where they have been planted. Other under-story plants are not too surprising, including the lower longleaf Oregon-grape, red elderberries, salal, oceanspray, and nettles. Non-native introduced plants such as foxgloves, ivies and hollies are also evident.

Farther up the island, however, the shorter Oregon-grape is seen less, while tall Oregon-grape, with its wonderfully fragrant flowers, predominates. The native Pacific rhododendron is much more visible. Garry oaks (for which Oak Harbor takes its name) become quite common deciduous trees. Pacific madrone cling to steep banks over the water. Grand firs are more often seen. Sitka spruces and shore pines also increase in the conifer mix. The more open prairie areas even contain a native cactus.

In the rocky Deception Pass region, the most remarkable differences begin. From here through the San Juan and Gulf islands and lower Vancouver Island, picturesquely gnarled Rocky Mountain junipers grow near the shores. Douglas maples, with their greater sun and drought tolerance fill the vine-maple void. Wildflowers such as Camassia, checker lilies, and Indian paintbrush color the earth. These unusual survivors are more commonly associated with Eastern Washington and the Rocky Mountain region.


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Ferry at Clinton
Whidbey Island is reached via Washington State Route 20 over the Deception Pass Bridge in the north, the Keystone to Port Townsend on the west coast and via Washington State Route 525 on the Clinton to Mukilteo ferry service on the southern east coast.

Travel on the island involves use of an extensive county road system, all of which act as feeders to the two state highways Washington State Route 525 and Washington State Route 20.

Public transportation is provided by Island Transit, which provides a free bus service paid for by a 6/10th of 1% sales tax within the county. There are currently 9 bus routes. The buses do not run on Sunday or major holidays, and there is limited service on Saturdays.

There are two public airports on the island. One small runway is just southwest of Langley, the other is just southwest of Oak Harbor. There is also a Navy flight training facility just southeast of Coupeville. The Navy also operates a large airport facility at the base. A seaplane company uses the waters of the Oak Harbor Marina as a landing area for flights to and from Seattle's Union Bay.


The current population of Whidbey Island is estimated at 56,000.

Areas with Post Offices

Names (arranged from north to south) Population ZIP Code
NAS Whidbey 2,064 98278
City of Oak Harbor 19,795 98277
Town of Coupeville (county seat) 1,723 98239
Community of Greenbank (unincorporated) No data 98253
Village of Freeland (unincorporated) 1,313 98249
City of Langley 959 98260
Village of Clinton (unincorporated) 868 98236

An estimated 29,000 people live in rural locations of Whidbey Island.

Recognized communities

Names Only (North to South)


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