Joseph Whidbey, the chief navigator on the HMS Discovery, sailed through Deception Pass in the spring of 1792. Deception Pass was so named because the Spanish had mapped the area through the pass as a bay when it was actually a deep channel connecting the Strait of Juan de Fuca with the Saratoga Passage.
Deception Pass Bridge, built in 1935, allowed easy access to Whidbey Island. Before the bridge was built, travelers had to hope and wait for a ferry to take them from Fidalgo Island to Whidbey Island as there were no scheduled crossings. The Wallace Bridge and Structural Company built the two-span Deception Pass Bridge, which is listed on the Register of Historic Places. The first span, over Canoe Pass, is 511 feet long. The second span, over Deception Pass, is 976 feet. More than 700 cars crossed the bridge during its first hour of operation. Today, more than two million cars cross the bridge each year.
The construction of Deception Pass Bridge was the first step toward making Oak Harbor the flourishing community it is today. The second was the arrival of Naval Air Station Whidbey Island. A strip of land connects the town of Oak Harbor to the Naval Air Station, which is located along Saratoga Passage in Clover Valley. In January 1941, Saratoga Passage on the shores of Crescent Harbor and Forbes Point was selected as a suitable base location for seaplane takeoffs and landings. The base was commissioned on September 21, 1942. Area residents worked alongside military personnel to build the base. Farmers gave their land to the Naval Air Station for runways and airplane hangars.
Today, the base is used for training reservists from all over the Northwest. NAS Whidbey Island works hand-in-hand with the community at large on recycling programs, improved education, environmental restoration and protection, and anti-drug programs. A spirit of excellence prevails everywhere in the community and on the base and is found in everyone, from military personnel to private citizens.
Further adding to the area's high quality of life are the variety of outstanding schools. Primary and secondary school students are served by the Oak Harbor School District. Nearby colleges and universities include Skagit Valley College in Oak Harbor and Chapman University, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Lesley College, Seattle Pacific University, Washington State University, and Western Washington University.
The parks and beaches in and around Oak Harbor offer a wide variety of activities. Deception Pass State Park is a 4,131-acre marine park with 15 miles of saltwater shoreline and nearly seven miles of freshwater shoreline on four lakes. Cliffs offer excellent views of the churning waters of Deception Pass, wildlife, birds and old-growth forests. Camping, hiking, biking, crabbing, kayaking, fishing and beachcombing are popular activities at the park.
Fort Casey State Park is a 467-acre marine park on Admiralty Inlet and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A lighthouse sits on the bluffs and historic guns from the coast artillery post are on display. The park also boasts two miles of saltwater shoreline along Puget Sound. Two miles of land, known as the Keystone Spit, separate Admiralty Inlet and Crocket Lake. Camping, hiking, shell collecting, kayaking and fishing are popular here.
City Beach Park provides paths along the beach and in the park. There are tennis courts, basketball courts, wading pools, a lagoon, a campground, and a bathhouse on the park's 28 acres. Visit Fort Ebey State Park for an up-close look at geological formations left by Vashon Glacier. One feature, called kettle holes because of the rounded indentations, were formed by melting chunks of ice. Kettles Trail connects the town of Coupeville to Ebey's Landing and is a favorite for walking, biking or horseback riding.
Native sea life abounds at Keystone Underwater Park -- an experienced scuba diver's paradise. Dave Mackie Park, Freeland Park Beach, Double Bluff Beach Park and Ala Spit Beach Access are excellent places to dig for clams. Ala Spit Beach is a haven for a variety of birds and marine life that enjoy the Skagit River mud flats and broad expanse of open sea water. Other area parks include Rhododendron County Park and South Whidbey State Park.
The Irish settled Oak Harbor in the 1850s, and in the 1890s, the Dutch arrived in the area. Today, the town is painted green in March and Holland Happening follows the tulips in April. The town holds a large and intensely patriotic Fourth of July celebration each year and an air show is staged at NAS Whidbey Island in August. Whidbey Island Race Week is one of the top 20 yachting regattas in the world.
The Island County Historical Society and Museum describes the history of Whidbey Island. The first car owned by an Island resident is on display along with Native American artifacts, war canoes, a salmon wheel and a complete whale skeleton. The Historical Society offers history walks and tours.
For those interested in traveling a little further, the nearby community of Anacortes offers its own attractions and events. Known as the "crown jewel of Fidalgo Island," Anacortes is known for its myriad of water-related activities, from sailing to whale watching to sport fishing. The community is also home to the renowned Port of Anacortes, a busy terminal that ships goods to nations all across the Pacific Rim.
Popular events in Anacortes include the Waterfront Festival in May and the Anacortes Arts Festival in August. Fourth of July and holiday parades attract even more visitors, as does the town's quaint and charming historic downtown district. Specialty shops, art galleries, bed-and-breakfasts and antique shops make for a unique downtown experience.
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