Traveling east from Orcas Landing past Killebrew Lake, the county road takes a gentle yet definite turn to the north. Soon after, the character of the landscape begins to change. The forest thickens on either side as the roadway narrows and bends to accommodate a varied terrain. Further on, a view of Martin Lake opens to the east where, on a mid-winter afternoon, Trumpeter swans, widgeons and coots take refuge on quiet water in the shadow of Diamond Hill. Ferns edge the roadside under a lush canopy, thrushes forage, and the air is infused with the fragrance of humus-rich soil. Following this track through the forest below the timbered shoulder of Mt. Woolard is like stepping back to a time when settlement was sparse and large stretches of wild lands were a dominant feature of the island environment.
Thanks to a generous conservation easement granted to the Preservation Trust in 1997 by the Frederick Ayer family, the scene described above has been protected in perpetuity. A corridor extending for two miles along Dolphin Bay Road insures that this scenic greenway will be maintained. Preserved areas around Martin Lake and other wetlands on the property will provide ongoing watershed protection and secure wildlife habitat, while steep slopes will be left natural. The easement also reduces by approximately one-half the number of future residential parcels currently allowed by the comprehensive plan on the Ayer property.
Some 420 acres are included in the easement, making it one of the largest of the Trust’s holdings on Orcas Island. Under terms of the agreement, the land can continue to be managed for sustainable timber production, and any future structures on the Ayer property should not be visible from the county road.
Frederick Ayer first visited Orcas in 1943. Taken by the beauty of the island, he acquired the “old Cox place” in 1946 and went on to purchase neighboring parcels over time. An avid outdoors man, he and his family have cared for and enjoyed the property for over 50 years and wanted to preserve the natural features and wildlife they value.
“This easement speaks to Mr. Ayer’s love of the land,” commented former Orcas Island trustee, Fred Whitridge. “It is a significant step forward to realize this exceptional acreage and the views as seen from Dolphin Bay Road and Martin Lake will remain virtually unchanged from today.”