Island Dispatch | October 2013

Photo by Ferdi Businger


Three years ago, Vendovi Island was put up for auction. As the most pristine large island under single ownership in the entire San Juan archipelago, conservationists had long targeted Vendovi as a priority for protection. Upon learning of its pending sale, the San Juan Preservation Trust set out to build a partnership with other non-profits and government agencies to participate in the auction. Our requests were politely but swiftly rebuffed (“not enough time” and “too big of a risk” they all told us). Recognizing that this was an opportunity for the ages, our board of trustees pushed fear aside and took a bold (and unprecedented) risk by borrowing $3.4 million to purchase the island for $6.4 million.

We anticipated that raising money to pay off a loan would be a challenging task. We developed a contingency plan that involved re-selling the island with some conservation protection, an action that we knew would preclude public access. We understood that our task had to include an introduction to a remote place that few of our donors had ever seen or even heard about. This was not another Turtleback Mountain.

A local island family then stepped up with an offer to help. To inspire fellow islanders to give, they challenged us with a three-year, $1.0 million challenge grant. As we’ve introduced people to this remote and mysterious island, we have been gratified by the response. So far over 350 households have generously supported the Campaign to Save Vendovi Island, and many of these contributors have made multiple gifts. We are pleased to announce that we have successfully met the requirements of the $1.0 million challenge grant and have reduced the outstanding loan balance from $3.4 to $1.3 million.


We still have a lot of money to raise, but our apprehensions have turned to optimism. We have now started planning for a future that includes our permanent ownership of Vendovi. A task force that includes trustees, members and advisors has been convened to articulate our long-term goals for the island, to determine what resources we will need to meet these goals, and to undertake a new capital campaign that incorporates this long-term vision into its message. We intend to take an innovative approach to creating a model nature preserve that will protect the natural integrity of Vendovi while accommodating access for scientific, educational and low-impact recreational purposes.

We look forward to reporting on our progress over the coming months and returning to you with a compelling vision for Vendovi . If we succeed, Vendovi will maintain its mystery and natural diversity while serving as a showcase for teaching current and future visitors about life and conservation on our outer islands. We hope you will stay tuned…


We are thrilled to welcome Barbara “Bella” French to the Preservation Trust family. Bella joins our staff as Membership and Outreach Manager, replacing Diana Stepita (who recently retired).

Over the course of Bella’s eight years at The Nature Conservancy of Washington (TNC), she directed their volunteer program, oversaw marketing, membership and special events, and supervised restoration projects on TNC preserves.

Bella has held a longtime passion for the San Juan Islands. “I’ve always been a country girl at heart and am thrilled to be joining San Juan Preservation Trust to help protect one of my favorite places on Earth,” she says. “I’ve spent time on the islands since early college years, and although I’ve traveled to more than 20 countries around the world, the San Juans have remained dear to me. I’m looking forward to getting out to see all of the special places the Trust has protected.”

As Bella fully satisfied our search for an individual who can both expand our membership and engage our island communities, we feel this is a match made in heaven.

JOHN MARX (1921-2012)

John Marx loved natural places, and he loved to sing.

John and his wife, Georgia Baciu, lived a modest life together on San Juan Island, their home of 30+ years, where John performed with the San Juan Singers. Their one extravagance was travel, and together their adventures took them to many wild and remote places. From exploring penguin colonies in Antarctica to snorkeling in the Solomon Islands to backpacking throughout the western United States, John sought open spaces that weren’t crowded. His many mountaineering accomplishments included scaling all 13 of California’s 14,000+ foot peaks.

In addition to his lifetime commitment to preserving, protecting and enjoying our natural world, Georgia tells us that John did not like to pay taxes, and his estate plans included several gifts to his favorite nonprofit organizations. John’s significant bequest to the San Juan Preservation Trust will protect special island places in perpetuity, and will continue to sing of John’s generous life and passions.