Turtleback Mountain Conservation Easement & Preserve

Orcas Island

Year Protected: 2006

Land Protected: 1,578 acres

Shoreline Protected: 956 feet

On November 16, 2006, a partnership of conservation organizations that included the San Juan Preservation Trust, The Trust for Public Land and the San Juan County Land Bank successfully purchased Turtleback Mountain on Orcas Island, one of the largest and most familiar properties in the San Juan Islands. This acquisition, the result of a six month, $18.5 million fundraising campaign, ensures that the mountain will remain an undeveloped conservation area accessible to the public.

This represented the largest fundraising campaign ever undertaken in San Juan County. More than 2,000 donors from throughout the Puget Sound region and beyond responded to the appeal. Local schools, social groups and businesses sponsored special events and promotions for Turtleback, and an outdoor rally held in September 2006 at the base of the mountain is believed to be the single largest community gathering ever held in the San Juan Islands. A Turtleback-inspired cartoon was created for the campaign by Gary Larson, creator of “The Far Side” comic strip, and was used to expand interest beyond the islands.

“This is a realization of a community dream,” said Tim Seifert, executive director of the San Juan Preservation Trust at the time of this acquisition. “Turtleback Mountain will be a gift from our generation to those that will follow.”

With native grasslands, Garry oak savanna habitat, an unusually large mixed-species forest (including old growth), high public recreation potential, important hydrological (surface, groundwater, and marine) influences, and an expansive undeveloped ridgeline visible from throughout the islands, Turtleback had long been considered by the Preservation Trust to be the most significant and vulnerable property in the San Juan Islands. Visible from throughout the archipelago, the mountain is especially well-known for providing dramatic views over the San Juan Islands, the Canadian Gulf Islands, the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, and numerous waterways in between.

The San Juan County Land Bank, a public agency, contributed $10 million to the project by bonding against future revenues. The San Juan Preservation Trust contributed $1 million, and with The Trust for Public Land raised the remaining funds from private sources. The Land Bank now owns and manage the 1,578-acre Turtleback Mountain conservation area, while the Preservation Trust holds a conservation easement to ensure it remains in its natural state and publicly accessible in perpetuity. As part of the campaign, a $1 million stewardship fund was raised to build trails and support the long-term management of the property.

“Turtleback Mountain now becomes public land that will be available to all of us,” said Lincoln Bormann, director of the San Juan County Land Bank.

The Turtleback property was assembled by Norton Clapp, benefactor of the Seattle-based Medina Foundation, starting in the 1950s. Upon his death in 1995, the property was granted to the Medina Foundation, which put the property up for sale in August of 2005 to support its philanthropic work. The property had been actively pursued by residential and private resort developers before an agreement was reached with conservation interests to acquire the property.

“This is a milestone for land conservation,” noted Roger Hoesterey, northwest regional director for The Trust for Public Land. “By permanently protecting Turtleback, we have made a tremendous contribution to the health and identity of the entire Puget Sound region.”

Turtleback Mountain Preserve is open to the public. Click here for visitor information and trail map.