San Juan Preservation Trust

Island Dispatch | February 2016


Sunday Afternoon on Zylstra Lake

Andrew O’Neill

If you are familiar with the Georges Seurat painting “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” perhaps better known as the basis for the Broadway musical “Sunday in the Park With George”, what comes to mind is recreation and relaxation at its best: strolling, picnicking, basking in the sun, fishing, rowing…

This idyllic vision has recently been imagined on San Juan Island’s Zylstra Lake, and if the San Juan Preservation Trust and San Juan County Land Bank are successful in their joint effort to acquire the 313-acre property, it will become a reality. A beloved place for people to relax and play is only one aspect of the vision. The success of this effort will also include the permanent protection of prime habitat for salmon and native cutthroat trout, and for overwintering Trumpeter Swans and other waterfowl. It will also expand the preservation of a sweeping valley viewscape that has historically been one of the most productive agricultural zones in the archipelago.

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The family that was selling the property clearly preferred this vision, as they approached The Preservation Trust in November with very favorable terms after a developer – intent on building a number of lakefront homes – had already submitted an offer. Noting that Zylstra Lake is the only property to ever satisfy every single public benefit criteria on our project selection checklist, we quickly mobilized to assess the financial feasibility of the project. Encouraged by initial responses received from the County Land Bank and granting agencies, SJPT’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously to proceed. While grants don’t always materialize, and the timing is not ideal (with the Campaign for Mount Grant still $1.0 million away from completion), SJPT’s trustees nevertheless felt that this opportunity was too important to miss. We simply have to try.

Together with the County Land Bank, we have entered into an agreement to purchase the Zylstra Lake property for $3.0 million. The County has committed $500,000, and The Preservation Trust has accepted lead responsibility for raising the remaining $2.5 million balance. We will apply for grant funds and re-sell a 30-acre farmstead located within the property. In early 2017, when we know the total grant funds awarded to the project, the partnership will determine whether or not it will have the funding to proceed. At that point, we may then launch a community fundraising campaign to cover remaining costs of acquisition and restoration.

Under the partnership’s current vision, the 161-acre “Upper Lake” parcel would eventually be owned by the County Land Bank and managed primarily for open space and recreation. Public amenities (subject to the development of a management plan) may include walking trails, a launch for small non-motorized boats, and San Juan Island’s only publicly-accessible swimming lake. The 122-acre “Lower Lake” parcel would be owned by

The Preservation Trust and managed to provide agricultural opportunities, a public trail, and year-round stream flow in False Bay Creek for salmon and native cutthroat trout.

Imagine fly-fishing in San Juan Valley. Imagine sailing, picnicking, strolling … Imagine Sunday afternoon at Zylstra Lake!

The Numbers

Property Size:
313 acres

Purchase Price:
$3.0 million

Development Potential:
54 home sites

Down Payment:
$300,000 (made on December 15, 2015)

Loan Balance:


$900,000 due in December
2016, 2017 and 2018

Kurt Thorson

A conservation success story

Shaking out their gorgeous feathers and honk-murmuring quietly in a language only they understand, a group of Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) grace the waters of San Juan Island’s Zylstra Lake. This large freshwater lake, with secrets that our current acquisition project is just beginning to unlock, is an important wintering area for these swans and other large waterfowl flocks. The swans counted at Zylstra Lake on this cold January day were part of a decades-long inventory coordinated by The Preservation Trust and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW). The average annual population of Trumpeter Swans in the San Juan Islands (between 50-100 individuals over the last 5 years) equals what was once the entire population of these swans in all of the lower 48 states, according to a 1930’s census. Once hunted for their feathers and poisoned by lead shot ingestion, these graceful birds have made a miraculous recovery.

The Preservation Trust works closely with WDFW, the Trumpeter Swan Society and other conservation groups each January on this swan count, which provides a snapshot of the wintering swan populations and valuable insight into recovery efforts.

If you would like to help, please contact Kathleen Foley, Stewardship Manager at or 360.378.2461.

kurt thorson

You Gave...we goofed

Since the last issue of the Island Dispatch (December 2015 Year in Review), we ran a list of our current members categorized by number of years of support. This was the first time we’ve ever tried this, and we trusted that our database would flawlessly sort our members by gift history. Lesson learned. (We will be breaking in a new database in the coming months!)
We apologize to all the members who notified us they were not correctly placed in the list or, even worse, missing altogether. We also suspect that some of you didn’t notify us: we apologize to you as well, and encourage you to contact us so that we don’t make the same mistake again. We will continue to work to get this list right, as we feel this is an important way to recognize your tremendous loyalty.

The Gann Society is a group of individuals who have notified us that they have provided for the San Juan Preservation Trust in their will. Their bequests will help protect the San Juan Islands in perpetuity.