San Juan Island
Years protected: 1991 (Conservation Easement) 2012 (Fee Acquisition)
Land protected: 748 acres
Public benefits: Agricultural lands, oak habitat, scenic views
In May 2012, the San Juan Preservation Trust acquired Red Mill Farm on San Juan Island, the largest working farm in the San Juan archipelago.
Red Mill Farm is located in the heart of San Juan Valley, which contains perhaps the most fertile agricultural land in the San Juan Islands. The property was purchased in the 1960’s by Dodie Gann and her husband, the author Ernest Gann. After donating a 38-acre parcel to the San Juan Preservation Trust in 1980 (the very first land transaction in the organization’s 33-year history), the Ganns followed up in 1991 by donating a conservation easement on their Red Mill Farm property that restricted future development to 13 home sites.
The couple’s long commitment to land conservation was spurred to action as they saw important farmland in the valley being carved into small residential parcels. “If you watch it being destroyed, you get protective,” says Dodie.
Upon Ernie’s death in 1991, the property’s ownership was divided in two, with one-half interest going to Dodie and the other half-interest going into a trust that benefited Ernie’s family from a previous marriage. In a series of transactions completed in May 2012, Dodie donated her half-interest in the property to the San Juan Preservation Trust, which then purchased the other half-interest from the beneficiaries of Ernie’s trust.
“After years of worrying about the future of our farm, it feels like a heavy weight has been lifted from my shoulders,” said Dodie as she was honored at the Preservation Trust’s annual meeting on May 20, 2012. “It gives me a very warm feeling to know that long after I’m gone, this will still be here.”
While this represents a significant investment in the future of local food production in the San Juan Islands, there will be no noticeable changes in the foreseeable future. Greg Black, who currently manages Red Mill Farm and its cattle operation, will continue in his current role for as long as he wishes. The Preservation Trust, as the landowner, now assumes the responsibility for paying property taxes, which will remain unchanged.
The first woman to ever be inducted into the University of Nevada’s Athletics Hall of Fame, Dodie was an accomplished skiier who was selected captain of the 1948 U.S. Winter Olympic ski team (St. Moritz) and inducted into the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame. Ernie was an aviation pioneer, filmmaker, and renowned author who wrote such classics as The High and the Mighty, Island in the Sky, Soldier of Fortune, and Fate is the Hunter. Ernie and Dodie were also accomplished pilots who shared an exuberant love of the outdoors, and were among the earliest believers in the land conservation mission of the fledgling San Juan Preservation Trust. Dodie served on the Preservation Trust’s board of trustees from 1990 to 2000, then continued to serve the organization as an emeritus land counselor for the rest of her life. She passed away on Christmas Eve 2012 at the age of 90, just a few months after ensuring that Red Mill Farm would be forever protected.
When combined with adjacent and nearby farm properties under Preservation Trust ownership, the San Juan Preservation Trust now owns approximately 825 acres in San Juan Valley. With additional conservation easements that it holds on private land in the valley, the Preservation Trust has protected almost 1,000 acres of farmland in this scenic and productive landscape.