Volunteers help lift and carry forward an organization’s mission, and the San Juan Preservation Trust has been blessed by many over the last 40-plus years. Their devotion is written into the story of beloved island places, and our gratitude runs deep. In recognition of National Volunteer Month, we are shining a light on a few of this year’s standouts. We hope that your spirits lift after catching a glimpse of their varied and generous gifts of time and talent.
SJPT’s 2020 Volunteer of the Year: Troy Buckley
Troy began rolling up his sleeves at SJPT work parties in 2014, shortly after he and his wife, Kristin, purchased a home on Orcas Island. (Full disclosure: Kristin recently joined our staff as Director of Philanthropy, but Troy distinguished himself as a volunteer well before that, while the couple were still part-time islanders based in Seattle.)
Throughout his career as a marine fisheries biologist, Troy studied species interactions and food webs. “In my work ranging from the Pacific Islands to the Alaskan Arctic, ” he says, “I saw the need to protect and rehabilitate impacted habitats and animal populations by preserving healthy ecosystems and treasured resources”—words he continues to live by as a volunteer Preserve Steward.
Troy is a vigilant presence at Turtleback Mountain and Turtlehead preserves. After windstorms, he clears downed trees from the trails. He picks up trash, pulls weeds, and logs sharp-eyed observations. He joins every work party with vigor and never hesitates to get his hands dirty. “I look forward to contributing more toward conserving unique habitats,” he says, “caring for their quality and character, and fostering an appreciation of the special places in the San Juan Islands. As a Preserve Steward, I get a deep sense of satisfaction, knowing that I am contributing to the health of our islands and the enjoyment of what they offer to current and future generations, humans and nonhumans alike.”
Videographer Phenomenon: Michael Noonan
Michael Noonan came to us like Mary Poppins: One day he just showed up, as if blown to our doorstep by a favorable wind. He had recently moved to San Juan Island when, in January 2020, he appeared for our 2020 Swan Count, camera in hand.
Since then, he has donated his professional photography and videography skills to help us create more than 15 videos. These range from 60-second “Just a Minute” shorts to all of our (slightly longer) “Just a Moment” videos, as well as the award-winning “Through Her Eyes” virtual tour of False Bay, featuring Dr. Drew Harvell. Currently he’s at work on a documentary about Garry oaks that will debut at the Preservation Trust’s 42nd Annual Meeting on May 20.
Dr. Noonan retired in 2019 from a 40-year career as a professor of Psychology, Biology, and Animal Behavior at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. At Canisius he taught, traveled, and created documentary films on forest ecology, elephants, chimpanzees, wolves, beluga whales, tigers and other big cats, birds of all feathers, and many other animal species all over the world. His photos and videos of wildlife and people have won laurels at prestigious national and international film festivals.
Nearly every day when he’s not traveling, Michael goes kayaking on the west side of San Juan Island and takes his camera with him. His Facebook followers can’t click “Like,” “Love,” and “Wow!” fast enough when he posts the amazing photographic results. He has allowed us to use many of these astounding images in our publications.
Through his generosity in sharing his professional skills and equipment with us, Michael has become an honorary member of our Communications and Outreach team. His smile and eyes light up when he’s excited, and he transfers that excitement to everyone around him. He has a gift for making others laugh and feel comfortable in front of the camera, bringing out storytelling talents that many of his subjects never knew they had.
Recalling his teaching years, Michael says: “I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to touch the lives of so many young people. That, through them, I may have been involved in curving the arc of mankind’s relationship with nature in a positive direction, is more gratifying than I can say.” We are lucky beyond words that he continues to “curve the arc” of peoples’ relationship with nature in a positive direction today with his immense contribution to conservation here in the San Juan Islands.
Ellis Preserve Handyman: Skip Bold
Ruthie Dougherty, Ellis Preserve Curator, writes:
Two years ago, faced with some unusual projects at the Marilyn and Fred Ellis Preserve on Shaw Island, I reached out to a friend of the Preservation Trust, long-time Shaw resident Skip Bold. “Retired” and living in Port Townsend at the time, Skip graciously agreed to stop by for a look when he was next on Shaw. Today, Skip again lives on the island, and his signature is on many completed tasks at the preserve, from carefully archived maritime history, functioning plumbing, and unstuck doors, to hand-carved signs and gate latches.
Skip’s experience as a contractor, mariner, historian, and designer have been invaluable, but it is his enthusiasm, approachability, and calm competence that again and again have left me at a loss for how to adequately say “thank you.” The many hours Skip has invested at the preserve is a reflection of his deep love for all things Shaw. As a boy, his interests in boating, steam engines, island history and natural history endeared him to many an “old-timer,” and he is a trove of stories and fond recollections.
Like his friends Dorothy and Ernest Graham (donors of SJPT’s Graham Preserve), Robert Ellis Jr. (donor of UW’s Cedar Rock Preserve) and Marilyn and Fred Ellis (donors of SJPT’s Ellis Preserve and much more protected land on Shaw and Lopez), Skip understands that each of us must do what we can to preserve the biodiversity, beauty, and unique character of the islands. By volunteering at the Ellis Preserve, Skip is honoring the legacy of conservation on Shaw Island, strengthening the Preservation Trust’s stewardship program, and buoying the spirits this most grateful preserve curator. “Hove-to” Old Bold, we’re glad your home!
Citizen Scientist: Kristin Tolle
The Preservation Trust welcomed Kristin Tolle to our Orcas Island volunteer team in the Fall of 2020. What first sparked Kristin’s interest was when she found out that we were in the process of setting up citizen science projects for our publicly accessible preserves and conservation easements. As a former computer and data scientist at Microsoft Research, Kristen had experience directing programs in environmental science software development and was already a regular user of the iNaturalist application.
It was a perfect fit—Kristin set up polygon maps to define preserve borders and helped us complete projects to capture observations in iNaturalist. To generate excitement, she posted these projects to local social media pages and sent invitations to top contributors of iNaturalist.
This winter, Kirstin moved outside as a Preserve Steward for Turtleneck Preserve, Turtleback Mountain (in coordination with the San Juan County Land Bank), and Frank Richardson Wildfowl Preserve. Planting oak seedlings and wildflower plugs, removing noxious weeds, and giving directions and trail suggestions to hikers keeps Kristin busy. She never misses an opportunity to add to citizen science and is noted as the top-ranked observer on several of our iNaturalist projects.
While pulling tansy ragwort, Kristin mused: “It’s a gift to be a Preserve Steward. Planting and protecting native plants and helping visitors of all ages enjoy the preserves is deeply rewarding.” Not only does Kristin volunteer for the Preservation Trust and the Land Bank, but she also donates her time and expertise to OPAL Community Land Trust. Kristin has given “retirement” a whole new meaning, and our island nonprofits, and those they serve, are the better for it.
Friend of the Bluebirds: Kathy Finholm
Having fallen in love with bluebirds in Aspen, Colorado, and becoming involved with a volunteer effort that monitored for Mountain bluebirds there, Kathy Finholm was delighted, when she moved to San Juan Island, to find out that the Preservation Trust was running a similar program for Western bluebirds (WEBLs). Kathy has been involved with our Western Bluebird Project since 2016. She now hosts and maintains WEBL nest boxes on her property and has adopted additional territories in San Juan Valley.
To her, there’s no better way to start the day than by spending a quiet spring morning focusing on bluebird activity. Oftentimes she invites her husband, David, to come along with her. A typical monitoring session has David painting watercolors while Kathy snaps print-worthy photographs of bluebirds that she generously shares with our outreach staff.
“For me,” Kathy says, “it was impossible not to get involved with the project on an emotional level, as well as a citizen-science level. Intense observation, care, and attention yields a lot of quality time with these special birds, and it’s time well spent. The quest to re-establish their population is a noble cause. It has been a joy to participate in this endeavor with a group of people who care.”
House Builders: Dan and Helen Green
Dan and Helen Green live a sailors’ dream—cruising around the San Juan Islands and enjoying public lands whenever they reach the shore. While traveling, Purple Martins greet them at many a water’s edge, and through their encounters, these colorful aerial acrobats found tender places in Dan and Helen’s hearts.
Purple Martins are the largest swallow species in North America and like bluebirds, they refract the sun’s rays such that human observers see indigo and violet spectrums of light. It’s safe to say that they carry the sun on their backs! In Washington, Purple Martins are showing signs of decline due to habitat loss and other environmental threats. The hopeful news is that they have adapted to live near humans and do well in artificial housing. In fact, Native Americans traditionally hung hollow gourds to provide housing for martins which, in turn, chased off crows and hawks from fields of corn or curing meat.
“Helen and I saw Purple Martin nest boxes in almost every state park when we cruised the South Puget Sound, several years ago, and in Canada,” Dan says. “We had wondered why nest boxes were not a fixture in the San Juan Islands. An opportunity to change that presented itself after meeting Sierra O’Connell, SJPT’s Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator, at Watmough Bay Preserve.”
On the spot, Dan and Helen asked if the Preservation Trust would be interested in having them build Purple Martin nest boxes to be put up on SJPT preserves. We welcomed their donations, which will expand habitat for a “species of greatest conservation concern,” according to the WA Department of Fish and Wildlife. Thanks to Dan and Helen, we now have new nest boxes installed on Vendovi Island Preserve, Henry Island Isthmus Preserve, and the Marilyn and Fred Ellis Preserve (on Shaw Island). The Purple Martin is extremely dependent on human-provided housing, so it’s a “no brainer” to help support these gorgeous birds with their distinctive voice.