Tending an Island Gem
Our Vendovi Island Preserve
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.’Read more
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.