Years Protected: 1990 & 2012
Land Protected: 141 acres
Public Benefits: Rocky balds, scenic views, forest
Rising dramatically from the west side of Orcas Island and visible from throughout the archipelago and beyond, Turtleback Mountain is perhaps the most recognizable landscape in the San Juan Islands. More than 20 years in the making, the story of how it was all assembled into one publicly accessible nature preserve serves as a testament to the vision and generosity of the Orcas Island community.
Turtleback Mountain is made up of three parts: the headland forming its “head;” the rounded peak that forms its tall “back;” and the connecting ridge that forms its “neck.” Each piece of the turtle has its own conservation story.
This 30-acre knob was donated to the San Juan Preservation Trust in 1990 by the landowner, Ruth Ellen Helsell Winter, who wished to permanently protect the property for the scenic enjoyment of future generations. Referred to as Orcas Knob on many maps, the Preservation Trust’s Turtlehead Preserve, as we now call it, provides one of the most spectacular vistas found anywhere in the San Juan Islands.
With both Turtlehead and Turtleback Mountain under permanent protection, one 111-acre privately owned parcel still separated the two preserves. In the final chapter of the acquisition trilogy, the San Juan Preservation Trust purchased this property in 2012 following a $1 million fundraising effort.
With a scenic trail constructed by the Washington Trails Association, the Washington Conservation Corps, and local volunteers, visitors can now enjoy a publicly accessible connection between Turtlehead Preserve and Turtleback Mountain Preserve.