Island Dispatch | December 2013

Photo by Jane Fox



For 35 years, our first priority has been to protect the natural values on the 50+ nature preserves that we own throughout the islands, and this commitment will never change. But as a significant owner of island land, we have an opportunity – and perhaps a responsibility – to use some of the preserves in our network to demonstrate the fundamental role that land conservation plays in our lives. As important as our island wildlife, landscapes and habitat are to us, it is our people that serve as the heart and inspiration for our work. In fact the future health of our nature preserves may rely on making them accessible for the education and enjoyment of our human constituents.

This observation is shared by our land trust peers throughout the country, who are learning that inviting people onto protected lands can provide long-lasting benefits. At the Preservation Trust we know that our focus will one day shift from acquisition to stewardship, and our promise to protect land in perpetuity can be kept only when our community understands the value of what we have. We think that public access will be an important tool to educate and engage, thereby inspiring current and future generations of people to defend our work.

Towards that end, we have made public access to some of our preserves a strategic priority. In concept, this commitment seems simple. Practically, the issues that arise from providing public access are surprisingly complex. To help us sort through these issues, we have engaged an experienced outdoor education and design firm, Sea Reach Ltd., to create an access plan for our selected preserves. This plan will ensure consistency of appearance and message, but will adapt to accommodate special considerations for each site (for example, amenities and educational messages for a remote island preserve will be very different from a working farm, a hiking trail or a popular beach).

We often talk about future generations that will benefit from our work. The only way to ensure that the places we’re protecting today will remain protected in the future is to build a dedicated and lasting constituency, and we believe this effort to provide access to some of our most inspiring preserves is an important step. We have been inspired by the vision being generated by this process, and we look forward to sharing it with you and our island communities.

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Of the more than 15,000 acres protected by the San Juan Preservation Trust, approximately 3,000 acres are owned outright. The remaining 12,000 acres are owned by private families or government agencies but protected by conservation easements held by the Preservation Trust. These conservation easements protect specific natural values on the property in perpetuity, but allow the landowner to enjoy, sell or bequeath the property to their heirs. In most cases, lands protected by conservation easements are not accessible to the public, but the Preservation Trust often provides its members with special access to these conserved properties.


In late August, we cut the ribbon and opened up Orcas Island’s new Turtleneck trail. This trail crosses 110 acres of land acquired by the San Juan Preservation Trust in 2012 that had long separated the Turtleback Mountain Preserve from the Turtlehead Preserve, two of our most-beloved places. With its breathtaking 360-degree views of surrounding islands, the Turtlehead Preserve had, until now, been inaccessible to the public.

The ribbon-cutting ceremony also celebrated a highly-effective partnership between the Preservation Trust, the San Juan County Land Bank, the Washington Trails Association (WTA) and the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC).  Each brought resources that were essential to the creation of the trail: working alongside local volunteers, this model partnership navigated the stubborn contours of the rocky hillside to build a beautiful and lasting trail.

Visitors can now begin this moderately-challenging hike of about five miles (round-trip) from the north trailhead of the Turtleback Mountain Preserve. We heartily recommend that you lace up your boots, hit the trail, and enjoy the splendor of our Turtlehead Preserve. It is worth the effort!


To ensure that their land would remain in the same natural state as they had enjoyed it, the late Ernest and Beverly Graham – longtime residents of Shaw Island – bequeathed their 99-acre property to the San Juan Preservation Trust in 2009. Situated on a bank overlooking Shaw’s Squaw Bay, the property links the Shaw Island Community Center near Blind Bay to Shaw Island County Park on Indian Cove. Employing countless hours of volunteer labor, including the muscle of more than 50 young volunteers from the San Juan and Lopez Island Youth Conservation Corps, Shaw Island School, and Bellingham’s Explorations Academy, a delightful 0.8-mile pedestrian path now meanders through the Graham Preserve’s quiet forest.

The Preservation Trust looks forward to reuniting with the many trail volunteers and the Shaw Island community at a grand opening ceremony in the coming spring. We know that Ernest and Beverly would be pleased to know that generations of Shaw residents and visitors will enjoy this lasting gift to their beloved island.