Wander in Wonder – Price Sculpture Forest opens next week

— Created October 14, 2020 by Kathy Reed

By Melanie Hammons

The Japanese concept of “Forest Bathing” or “shinrin-yoku,” has been around for a while now. This practice embraces a “five-senses” approach to enjoying outdoor forest settings. Japanese physicians tout studies that show both mental and physical health improvements for the adherents.

Whidbey Island, located an ocean away from Japan, offers multiple opportunities to forest bathe:  Beachside and woodland trails, state parks, and land trusts abound, from one end of the island to the other.

 But an experience deeper, and even more uplifting, is poised to unfold very soon, with the opening of The Price Sculpture Forest just outside Coupeville, scheduled to open for tours Friday, Oct. 23.  The park beautifully combines two of the best-known features of Whidbey life – a love of the arts, and Whidbey’s own natural surroundings.  The plan is to add tastefully-selected works of sculpture to the beauty of nature that already exists there in the form of trees, flowers, and other plants.

Founder and Board of Directors President, Scott Price, describes the park as a way to preserve a 100-plus year-old forest while giving visitors the chance to experience it as “an outdoor museum.” 

“The Sculpture Forest is meant for art lovers and nature lovers too,” said Price.  “What makes sculpture parks so unique is that the changing seasons, weather, and even the play of shifting sunlight give a different feel to works of art and nature alike. It’s to experience art from many different viewpoints.”

Price Sculpture Forest’s inception reads almost like a storybook from its very beginning.

“Many Coast Salish Native American groups are believed to have visited and lived in the vicinity; the (park) encircles what we know to be a Native American cemetery, although we don’t know if human remains are there,” said Price.

The story gets even more interesting.  Price’s family bought the main 15-acre parcel in 2008, shortly followed by the purchase of smaller adjacent plots. They intended to build their family home there, then they had second thoughts altogether about that original plan.

“We ended up building our house elsewhere; there remained the question of, ‘what to do with this beautiful piece of land?’ After investigating many different options, we spoke with the Whidbey Camano Land Trust. Eventually, in partnership with the Trust, and with assistance provided by the U.S. Navy, the idea for a sculpture park was born,” Price said.

According to Price, some of the trees on the site are original old-growth forest. One of the features of the 16-acre property is it now holds a permanent conservation easement, thus achieving his hoped-for aim of preserving the habitat for future generations.

From its inception, park planners designed two separate, uni-directional trails that wind throughout the property. That layout allows visitors plenty of personal space and freedom of movement. The intent for that was two-fold, said Price.

“One, we wanted to preserve people’s sense of privacy and freedom of motion as they walk the trails.  Two, this sort of layout allows for an optimal viewing experience; in addition to enjoying the beauty of walking a woodland trail, there’s a sense of discovery and anticipation as you await what could be around the next bend,” he said.

The trails are titled “Nature Nurtured,” and “Whimsy Way,” respectively, their names hinting at the kind of attractions one might encounter “just around the next bend.”

“The first one features outdoor art and sculptures that all relate to the living world, plus its natural elements. And the second, as it implies, every sculpture is cool, humorous, or just fun,” said Price. 

Price detailed his plans to create a free, “self-guided” tour app of the entire Sculpture Forest.  Visitors will enjoy reading descriptions of each sculpture that are to include short videos provided by each sculptor. The videos intend to provide an in-depth perspective of the sculpture’s meaning according to its creator.

Sculptures chosen for the Forest will be carefully selected to enhance the ultimate mission and goal of “honoring the artistry of nature and how it can relate to the creative inventions of people,” according to the organization’s website.  The creators include both nationally known as well as locally based Pacific Northwest sculptors.

And the beautiful story that is the Price Sculpture Forest just keeps unfolding: Long-range plans for the park’s future include the construction of a visitor center/gallery building, perhaps even a gazebo or picnic shelter. The board also hopes to forge a partnership with an arts organization or gallery to host an on-site presence that will be mutually beneficial to all. They even foresee the possibility of constructing path lighting on the south loop trail to benefit evening opportunities.

The Price Sculpture Forest officially opens to the public Oct. 23.  Five tours are currently scheduled and all are currently booked. Tours are limited to 10 people and participants must wear masks and follow physical distancing protocols. Prospective visitors should check the Price Sculpture Forest website – sculptureforest.org – for the latest information about tour dates and times, etc. “Early-bird” visitors are highly discouraged.

“We respectfully ask that people please wait until we are completely done with the construction, as it’s not safe to be in the way of the heavy machinery that may be in use,” said Price.  “Please check our website for the latest updates; that’s where you’ll hear about it first.”

Price describes next week as a “soft opening.”  Perhaps by springtime, a more celebratory grand opening could finally take place, the hope being that by then, “with the passage of time, masks, health concerns, etc. will not impact us as much,” he said.

In the same spirit that one would wait until Christmas or a birthday to open the presents at just the right moment, the opening date of Price Sculpture Forest is a gift well worth waiting for. Its culmination can probably be summed up most descriptively by the live edge cherry-wood arch at the entryway that bears the words, “Wander in Wonder.”