The Whidbey Camano Land Trust, and its mission since 1984 to protect open space and natural habitat now and into the future, is an important entity in maintaining our island’s unique quality of life.

“We’re passionate about protecting this paradise,” proclaims a headline on the site’s webpage. “We have partnered with landowners and island communities to help expand county and state parks, protect natural areas and local family farms, increase trail and beach access, and protect and restore fish and wildlife habitat.”

According to the annual report for 2020, the Land Trust has protected 10,003 acres of shorelines, tidelands, trails, forests, open space, farmland, and wetlands on Whidbey and Camano islands.

The Land Trust works cooperatively with landowners to protect and conserve land, using three methods by which land is protected: conservation easements, fee land ownership, and facilitated protection. 

Conservation easements are the number one tool property owners can use to protect privately owned land in perpetuity. Often providing a number of tax breaks, conservation easements are permanent and transfer with the sale of property.

Entrance to the 16-acre Price Sculpture Forest was designed and built by Ken Price, Scott Price’s father, and Langley artist Michael Hauser

Scott Price, owner of the Price Sculpture Forest in Coupeville, transferred a conservation easement to the  Whidbey Camano Land Trust and the US Navy to forever protect the 16.3-acre woods where the outdoor sculpture park, which opened October, 2020, is located.

“The easement goes on, even after I sell the property,” Scott said in an earlier interview.

Stitching conservation easements together will, when all phases are completed, create a contiguous hiking trail system from the Coupeville Ferry to downtown Coupeville to Ebeys Landing. The first of the two trail phases are expected to be open to the public sometime in 2022.

Patricia Powell, Whidbey Camano Land Trust executive director since 2003, has been instrumental in stitching together more than 10,000 acres of protected land.

“This is something really cool, said Taylor Schmuki, stewardship assistant with the Land Trust, and lead for organizing volunteers to maintain protected spaces once acquired. “Twelve years ago when we started protecting farmland in Ebeys Reserve with conservation easements, we said we’d like trail access for the public. Pat (Powell, Executive Director) ensured trail easements were reserved on key properties. It is a unique project, and it’s going to allow people to walk along farmlands and through woodlots. A project that is stunning. Honestly, there are moments you walk across it and it seems you are in the Sound of Music. The raptor life is phenomenal.”

Sometimes the Land Trust protects land by owning it outright through fee land ownership, “Landowners may donate the property or, in special cases, sell the title and all rights and interest to us,”  I learned from this WCLT web page. “We then retain the land for conservation purposes and are responsible for managing it.”

Properties such as the Land Trust’s Trillium Community Forest, with critical plant or animal habitat, where public use is significant, and land adjacent to existing protected properties, are examples of fee land ownership. 

WCLT Conservation Director Ryan Elting Ryan joined the Land Trust in April 2014 to lead the Conservation Team – coordinating land protection and acquisition, stewardship and grant fundraising.

A new acquisition anticipated for a June opening is the Possession Sound Preserve, a 45-acre parcel with forested slopes and access to the beach off of Humphrey Road in Clinton. 

“There are so few opportunities to protect long stretches of undeveloped shoreline like this,” said Ryan Elting, Land Trust conservation director, quoted on the site’s webpage. “When you also consider the public access component, it’s a complete winner for people, fish and wildlife.”

Meanwhile, a Feb. 21 email announced a Land Trust collaboration, which added property to Fort Ebey State Park: “A large swath of native forest habitat is now permanently protected. Working with a generous landowner and Washington State Parks, the Land Trust facilitated a 65-acre expansion of Fort Ebey State Park on central Whidbey.

“The recently completed (and complicated) real estate transaction ensures the property’s many ecological benefits will continue to aid humans and wild creatures, now and for generations to come.

Trustland Trails, in Langley, now maintained by S.Whidbey Parks + Recreation, is a 200-acre property, whose protection was secured with the help of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust

“In honor of her father, who homesteaded and loved the property, Marilyn Vogel donated a conservation easement to the Land Trust. She then donated the property, subject to the easement, to Fort Ebey State Park. You can experience this same type of forest by walking on the Fisher Ridge Trail accessed from the state park. In the future, a walking trail may be added for further enjoyment. But for now, let’s celebrate the property being forever wild.”

Donations to the Land Trust result in exponential opportunities for attracting additional grants. According to the Land Trust’s 2020 annual report, “Since 2005, we’ve secured $72.5 million in grant funding for land conservation — your financial supports makes this possible.”

Visiting Land Trust properties and sending in photos of the sites is one way to become involved in land stewardship.

“We love getting photos of people using our preserves,” Taylor Schmuki said. When we can show sources that people are using our property, it makes it easier to request grants. For every dollar an individual member donates, we can match it with $13 in grants, donations of land, and conservation easements. Members’ donations goes to paying staff. Our staff applies for grants to multiply dollars.”

Whidbey Camano Land Trust has helped facilitate open space preservation through a variety of federal, state and local grants. For example, Island County levies a property tax of up to $0.625 per $1,000 of assessed valuation to fund its Conservation Futures Funds program.

One such grant approved by Island County Commissioners resulted in land protection at the Whidbey Institute in 2018. Adjacent habitat now has “permanent protection for 106 acres of forest and wetland, including critical habitat and the headwaters of two creeks feeding the Maxwelton Creek watershed.”

Read about the Land Trust’s earlier assistance in protecting the integrity of this land, which includes the Whidbey Institute and the Whidbey Island Waldorf School in a book whose proceeds benefit the land trust:

Whidbey Island: Reflections on People & the Land, written by Elizabeth Guss, Janice O’Mahony and Mary Richardson, details the history behind the intentional protection and restoration of natural and cultural areas in Island County.

Dan Pedersen, once served on the Land Trust’s board, and is now the popular author of a biweekly blog, and mystery series, which is often set on Whidbey Island.

Educational walks at the Whidbey Institute, whose property remains protected by the Land Trust

“I think the Land Trust is doing some of the most valuable work in Island County,” Dan wrote in an email. “If I had to identify an angle, it would probably be love. People here own their land for decades, even generations within families, and grow to love it in ways that have little to do with money. It is remarkable and gratifying that so many people want future generations to have access to the wildlife and nature that become so much a part of us. We recognize that Whidbey and Camano islands have a character that other places lost long ago. The Land Trust provides a vehicle to protect that character.”

Preserving and protecting our island’s unique sense of place or genius loci —what a gift.

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