Now that we have two years under our belt as Vendovi’s owner and steward, we thought it would be a good time to give you a brief update about the island and our efforts to protect it.
We continue to discover the natural wonders of Vendovi. Our bird-watching visitors have counted 89 avian species to-date, including the red-necked phalarope, mountain bluebird and Western kingbird. The current botanist tally is at least 239 plant species. The spring wildflower season brings blankets of white fawn lilies, prolific fields of paintbrush, spring gold, chocolate lilies, camas, death camas and broad-leafed stonecrop. A large area of old growth trees was discovered, as was an octopus den. In early 2013, the Preservation Trust will work with the University of Washington’s Burke Museum to conduct a small mammal inventory, and faculty and students at the Northwest Indian College in Bellingham will be surveying the island’s near-shore habitat, so we anticipate a few surprises from those endeavors. With each new discovery, we are reminded that Vendovi Island is truly a gem worth protecting.
Stewardship and Restoration
Along with the natural discoveries have come lessons on what is needed to properly care for Vendovi Island. In several areas where the wildflowers are prolific, for example, encroaching Douglas firs threaten these rare grasslands. With the assistance of the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC), we have begun restoration work on some of these spectacular meadows by thinning the encroaching firs. WCC crew members have also set to work pulling English ivy and vinca, which are among the few invasive plants that have been found on the island.
People who visit Vendovi fall in love with it. Among those who experience it, this remote little island inspires an impassioned commitment to help ensure that it is protected and cared for. In nearby communities, residents are actively advocating (and fundraising!) for the island’s permanent protection. Several local Audubon chapters are carefully counting and monitoring avian species, and the Washington Kayak Club is providing volunteer land stewards for the island. Our partners at other local land conservation groups have offered to help us with the long-term care of the island, and gifts have been received from several conservation, civic and recreation groups.
The news that Vendovi Island now welcomes seasonal visitors is spreading. In the short time it has been open for public access, Vendovi has become a very popular summer boating destination, with more than 1,100 visits made during the spring and summer months each year. According to entries in the island’s guest register, most visits were made via motorized boat, with a handful of travelers using wind and human power. Whatcom County yielded the largest number of visitors, but Anacortes, greater Skagit County and neighboring islands are also well represented in the visitor log.
The island, and our campaign to permanently protect it, has been featured by John D’Onofrio in the winter issue of Adventure NW Magazine. It will also be included in Craig Romano’s upcoming book, Hiking in the San Juan and Gulf Islands. We worked with both writers to emphasize our objective to balance protection of the island’s natural assets with light-impact public access.
Through the Vendovi project, we have formed a productive partnership with the Washington Trails Association (WTA). In the spring of 2012, we hosted volunteer WTA crews on Vendovi to reroute unsafe hiking trails and build new trails. Several of these volunteers have fallen under the island’s spell and have become active advocates for the Vendovi campaign.The new trails are impressive. Dangerous and eroding trails were replaced with sustainable paths that lead visitors to the most popular locations on the island. The public now enjoys easy access to Vendovi’s most beautiful sandy beaches, as well as to two spectacular bench outlooks that are surrounded by the island’s legendary wildflower meadows.
In September, a visitor who uses an ambulatory scooter was able to explore many parts of the island on enhanced trails and, to our great delight, make her way to one of the island’s beaches using our new trail. While most of Vendovi remains a wild reminder of what the San Juan Islands used to be, we are very pleased that these new trails can provide a glimpse of the island’s treasures to members of our disabled population.
A handsome, multi-panel kiosk now greets visitors as they arrive on island. This “welcome” kiosk provides guidelines for visitation, a cultural history of Vendovi Island, information about plant and animal life observed on the island, and a fundraising appeal. Modest direction signs were also produced and placed at a number of trail junctions.
The Campaign to Save Vendovi
The acquisition of Vendovi Island was made possible through the generosity of an individual benefactor who provided a $3.0 million gift and a $3.4 million bridge loan. The Preservation Trust’s ability to retain ownership of Vendovi hinges upon our ability to retire this debt. If we are not able to do so, we will face the undesirable possibility of having to resell the island after placing a restrictive conservation easement on it.
We are happy to report that we have been able to repay $1.3 million of the loan as a result of successful fundraising over the past 18 months. Much of our success has been attributable to the effectiveness of a $1 million challenge grant we received soon after purchasing the island. The first goal of the challenge was completed in October 2011 when we raised $250,000, which was subsequently matched by the challenge donor. Last year we worked towards and achieved the second goal of the campaign, $350,000, thanks to several donors, including a wonderful San Juan Island couple who stepped forward with an extraordinary gift of $250,000.
The Final Push
We are now working to raise $400,000 by October 2013, the third and final goal of the $1 million challenge grant. So far we have identified approximately $239,000, which includes gifts in hand and pledges. Almost half of this amount was leveraged by the people of Samish Island and Sinclair Island. Leaders in these two small island communities challenged residents to participate; the resulting contributions were matched by two very generous donors, resulting in more than $110,000 to the campaign!With our October 2013 goal in our sights, we will be working to engage donors throughout Whatcom, Skagit and San Juan counties. As we have already reached out to the majority of our most loyal Preservation Trust donors, we are anticipating this to be a very challenging year.
If we satisfy the terms of the $1 million challenge by October, 80% of the acquisition funds will have been raised and the Preservation Trust’s goal to permanently own and protect Vendovi Island will be secure. We can then begin developing a long-term stewardship vision for the island that includes management plans, public access facilities and sustainable funding sources needed to care for the island. A final fundraising phase will begin in 2014 that will tap into new funding sources (including grants) to retire the $1.3 million outstanding loan balance and implement our long-term stewardship vision for the island.
With great appreciation to the more than 200 generous souls who have contributed to the Campaign to Save Vendovi Island, we continue to work to secure the island’s future for the benefit of current and future generations. Please help us spread the news that The Campaign to Save Vendovi continues to move forward, and please encourage your friends and neighbors to support it!