Reflections on the San Juan County Land Bank at 30

The San Juan County Land Bank turns 30 this year. To help celebrate three decades of remarkable conservation accomplishments—many of them completed in close partnership with the San Juan Preservation Trust, pooling the complementary strengths and resources of a public agency (the Land Bank) and a private, nonprofit land trust (SJPT)—we asked for reflections from four current SJPT board members who have various perspectives on the Land Bank.

Watmough Bay Preserve | Staff Archive
Turtleback Mountain Preserve | Staff Archive

Tom Cowan, former San Juan County Commissioner, Lopez Island: “The genesis of the Land Bank was broad community recognition that we were losing vital open spaces to development at an alarming rate. Leaders from all walks of life—real estate, farming, business, conservation, etc., came together 30 years ago to design the Land Bank. I was proud to be part of that effort.

“The Land Bank is just as necessary today as it was then. There is still so much more conservation of open spaces, natural areas, farmland, access to beaches and wetlands, vistas and trails that is necessary. I think we all recognize that what makes our islands special is the natural beauty and environment, and we need to preserve as much nature as possible.”

Nancy Greene, former Land Bank Commissioner, Lopez Island: “In 2007, the Land Bank and the Preservation Trust joined forces to rally the Lopez community in purchasing a highly visible shoreline parcel along Watmough Bay, staving off proposed development that would have forever changed this cherished gem on Lopez Island.

“The broad-ranging partnership that has protected so much of the natural beauty around Watmough Bay truly demonstrates that ‘many hands make light work’—but the work is not finished. Much more needs to be done to protect places like Watmough for future generations. Working in partnership with the Land Bank ensures that possibility.”

Sarah Hart, Preserve Donor, San Juan Island: “The process of donating property on Henry Island to the Land Bank, with a conservation easement held by the Preservation Trust, gave me an understanding of how the two entities are different from each other, while working closely together to preserve land for the present and future of the archipelago.

“As the islands become more densely developed, I believe it will become increasingly important to have public access to permanently protected, undeveloped land for all to enjoy—places like Mount Grant, Turtleback Mountain, Zylstra Lake, and Beaverton Marsh. We need both the Preservation Trust AND the Land Bank to make that vision a reality.”

Zylstra Lake Preserve | Paul Walsh

Peter Kilpatrick, Construction Entrepreneur, San Juan Island: “During my 40+ years as owner of Ravenhill Construction, I worked with waves of newcomers arriving in the islands to share our dream of living in a paradise. The establishment of the San Juan Preservation Trust in 1979 and the San Juan Land Bank in 1990 provided us with the resources we needed to ensure that development and preservation stayed in balance over the following decades of growth.

“The continued work of both the Land Bank and the Preservation Trust is a win for the environment and for business—and for the health and prosperity of county working families, our most precious resource!”

Beaverton Marsh Preserve | Joe Belcovson

Many happy returns to our friends at the Land Bank!