Dr. Betty Gilson fell in love with birds while growing up in the North Dakota prairie lands. During many years of practicing and teaching medicine, her enthusiasm for wildlife never waned. In the 1970’s, Betty and her husband, John, bought 27 acres of forest and marshland on Shaw Island. Although the land had been logged and the marsh drained, they saw a great opportunity.
“We had a dream,” she remarked at the time, “of recreating the old marsh and restoring the wetland habitat.” They hired a local man to carry out the vision.
“While the work was being done, it looked like a bombing range,” says Betty’s daughter, Judy Gilson Moody, who shares her mother’s love of the avian world. “But they were doing exactly what the experts said to do – create canals, islands, and ponds to make more edges; that’s where aquatic life is richest.”
Today at the marsh the wildlife thrive. The list of inhabitants is long. For starters, wood ducks paddle there along with hooded mergansers, the occasional cinnamon teal, and each year one or two female buffleheads appear. Otter and muskrat come up the drainage from Blind Bay to use the marshlands.
In 1988, after eight years of careful consideration, the Gilson family put a conservation easement on the property. “The important thing,” Betty reflected about the decision to preserve the marsh, “is caring about what happens to the land and all the creatures that depend on it, including, I might say, man! A lot of people don’t take into consideration that people benefit greatly from these protective measures.”
Sadly, Betty passed away in 2007, and while we still call this 27-acre property “Mom’s Marsh” in honor of Betty’s early vision, it has been sold to another family who is continuing the tradition of stewardship that was initiated by the Gilson family. Combined with a number of adjacent conservation properties, including a conservation easement donated by the Gilsons on 15 acres of woodlands, meadow and tidal marsh, an adjoining county park, a University of Washington Biological Preserve, and several other properties protected by the Preservation Trust, this easement expands a vast network of open space and habitat protection on Squaw Bay, an important area for migratory and wintering waterfowl, herons, shorebirds, and marine life.
Both Betty Gilson and Judy Gilson Moody went on to serve on the San Juan Preservation Trust’s board of trustees. Betty served as board president from 1991 to 1993, and Judy served as board president from 1997 to 2001.