Zylstra Lake Preserve and Conservation Easement

San Juan Island

Year Protected: 2015

Land Protected: 313 acres

Public Benefits: Fresh-water wetland and riparian habitat, mixed forest, rocky balds, agricultural land, open space, scenic views, water rights crucial to potential salmon recovery efforts, connects with additional protected land, public access.

Conserved jointly by the San Juan County Conservation Land Bank (owner/manager) and the San Juan Preservation Trust (easement holder)

As the only property ever to satisfy every public benefit criteria on the Preservation Trust’s project selection checklist, Zylstra Lake on San Juan Island has long been among our highest priority properties for protection. In addition to providing important habitat and open space, this property controls valuable senior water rights that could be used to serve a number of exciting projects—including, potentially, restoration of salmon and cutthroat trout runs in False Bay Creek.

Located just three miles west of the Town of Friday Harbor, this property includes the 52-acre Zylstra Lake, a second 9-acre “lower lake,” and more than 200 acres of open pastures and productive farmland with sweeping views over San Juan Valley.

In response to an offer from a developer intending to create a housing development around the lake, the Preservation Trust and the County Land Bank stepped up in December 2015 to purchase the 313-acre property for $3 million. We then spent much of the first half of 2016 preparing state and federal grant applications, and succeeded in winning a $1 million federal coastal wetlands grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. To raise additional funds, we placed a conservation easement on a 30-acre portion of the property (including an old farmhouse and agricultural structures) and sold it to a family that has established Island Haven, a nonprofit animal sanctuary.

The Land Bank, as owner of the property (with SJPT holding the conservation easement), has developed an interim management plan that includes a multi-phase opening to public access, which began with a trail opening in the fall of 2020.