San Juan Preservation Trust

Island Dispatch | February 2015

Tending an Island Gem

Our Vendovi Island Preserve

Rainshadow Consulting

In December 2010, the San Juan Preservation Trust accepted the largest risk in our 35-year history when we purchased Vendovi Island, a remote and little-known island in Skagit County. We had no illusions that this would be an easy project. We not only assumed a $3.4 million bridge loan to complete this acquisition, but we also made a commitment to our donors to open up this once-inaccessible island to the public. As expected, repaying this loan has proven to be our greatest fundraising challenge ever. And as we adapted existing facilities for public use, created new amenities – and policies – to accommodate visitors, and scrambled to identify the many natural values that needed special protection, stewardship of this remote island outpost has stretched this organization in ways we’ve never been stretched before.’

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Four years later, we are still grappling with these challenges, but we are beginning to understand how to care for this island gem. A key early decision that we made was to hire resident caretakers for Vendovi, a first for the Preservation Trust. Our current caretakers, Heather Bansmer and Shawn Breeding, have two summer seasons under their belt and now greet more than 2,000 annual visitors at the island’s dock.

Heather and Shawn live in a double-wide trailer that once served as a summer home for the island’s previous owners. Vendovi is completely off the grid, and the house’s electrical system has long relied on four diesel generators and large banks of car batteries (“State of the art… back in 1965,” someone recently told us). To begin weaning the island off diesel fuel, Peter Willing (our 2013 Volunteer of the Year) oversaw the installation of a solar power system that will significantly reduce our fossil fuel consumption. We have begun planning a new and efficient caretaker home that will rely completely on renewable energy sources, but this dream won’t become a reality until we first pay off our loan.

We continue to be amazed by Vendovi’s natural diversity. Among the island’s many charms, its native grassland meadows are exceptional for the San Juans and worthy of ongoing restoration. Since the fall of 2011, we have thinned Douglas-fir trees from areas dense with wildflowers; removed invasive plants, and planted young native fescue and ryegrass grown from seed collected on the island. We plan to continue this restoration, and to tend this island carefully, so that future generations will experience the natural beauty and diversity that once graced many of these islands.

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Point Lawrence Forever

The year: 1966. The setting: a beach near Point Lawrence, Orcas Island, on the grounds of a former fishing resort. The characters: four UW students enjoying a summer evening around a beach fire. “This place is too beautiful to let slip away – why don’t we pitch in and buy it together?” one of the young men suggested. A lofty idea, considering they were still students, unemployed and poor. The property owner (father to one of the students) thought their idea was a little too lofty, at least at first.

Eventually, with no other buyers on the horizon, he finally relented and agreed to carry a note on the property, and these four young men – Stu Stephens, Gary Ostle, Pete Stiles and Ken Culver (son of the generous dad) – became owners of nearly 100 acres of rugged forest and shoreline. Years later, the foursome acted together once again by placing a conservation easement on 59 acres of this property. This 50-year friendship has led to the permanent protection of a large mixed conifer forest, wetlands and stream that connect SJPT’s 22-acre Culver Preserve (donated by the Culver family in 2013) to the State of Washington’s Point Lawrence property. Not bad for four idealistic college kids!

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Partners in life
—and in conservation

Outdoor enthusiasts Jane and Keith Wentworth first began exploring the islands 30 years ago by kayak, bike and on foot. Longtime landowners on Stuart Island, they moved to San Juan Island in 2011 and now make it their permanent home. “These islands hold many special memories for us. We feel very fortunate to have finally moved here,” said Jane.

Working together to save special places is part of who Keith and Jane are as a couple. Keith first became involved in conservation when he served as treasurer for the Bainbridge Island Land Trust (BILT) in the mid-1990’s. He joined the San Juan Preservation Trust board of trustees last year. Jane, who also served on the BILT board, is a botanist and Master Gardener by training and is particularly interestedin native plants, habitat restoration and the management of invasive species. Not afraid of getting their hands dirty, both she and Keith have pitched in on stewardship projects including oak prairie restoration on our Kimball Preserveon Decatur Island.

Jane and Keith believe that the preservation of island habitat is essential to our quality of life. “For us, devoting time and money to SJPT is simply good citizenship,” said Keith.

The Gann Society is a group of individuals who have notified us that they have provided for the San Juan Preservation Trust in their will. Their bequests will help protect the San Juan Islands in perpetuity.