formerly "The View From Up Here"

Formerly titled "The View From Up Here" this column began in the Liberty Gazette June 26, 2007.

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September 4, 2007 Island Hopping

Liberty Gazette
September 4, 2007

The View from Up Here
By Mike Ely and Linda Street-Ely

Last week Mike shared his first landing experience on Catalina Island, and I promised to tell you about my island hopping. Friday Harbor and Orcas Island, off the coast of Washington State, were great fun right after receiving my private pilot license.

The largest of the San Juan Islands, Orcas Island’s 2,900’ by 60’ north-south asphalt runway crosses the east-west shaped island for most of its width.

I thought the island’s name was derived from the whales playing off shore, but according to Wikepedia, "Orcas" is a shortened form of Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo, the Viceroy of Mexico who sent an exploration expedition under Francisco de Eliza to the Pacific Northwest in 1791.

Plan a trip next year because you just missed the annual Orcas fly-in the first weekend in August. Sponsored by the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association is the invitation to camp next to your aircraft, enjoy good food and entertainment, and to be within walking distance of the Eastsound village shopping district. Proceeds from the pancake breakfast benefit Orcas Island Volunteer Firefighter/EMT Association, and camping and parking are free. The Orcas Island Community Band entertains the crowd and, common at fly-ins and airport open houses, an antique car show brings in more visitors. Even the radio control operators are welcome to join in the fun just east of the airport.

Friday Harbor Island sports a 3400’ by 75’ runway, a U.S. Customs port of entry, and a seaplane base. They hold their airport planning meetings at Earnie’s Café.

A few minutes’ walk downtown offers great choices in shops and eateries. A fifteen minute walk in another direction takes you to the Port’s marina where you can catch a ride out on the water, check out the whales, and listen to live music.

Hikers and cyclists enjoy the two-mile Clark McAlpine Trail along the west side of the airport managed by the San Juan Island Trails Committee. Boy Scout Troop 90 helped build the scenic route and later added a loop trail which extends through airport property to Skagit Valley College.

I’ve visited the islands a few times, first with an instructor and then with a friend who was an air traffic controller on the mainland in Bellingham. While these island runways don’t offer the same challenge to landing as Catalina Island, it’s island hopping and some of the best social aviation atmosphere in the Pacific Northwest.

Mike: We’d love to see that kind of activity here in Liberty, where the camaraderie brings out more aviators and enthusiasts and contributes more to local businesses, jobs, education, and the social welfare, health and safety of Liberty County residents. As we form Friends of the Liberty Airport, we hope to see you tonight at FLNB at 7 p.m. and consider joining in support of the future of local general aviation.

Mike and Linda can be reached at

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