Volunteer Peter Zangrillo and Land Steward Meghan Howard at Northeast Shore Preserve, Orcas Island | Staff archive

The San Juan Preservation Trust occasionally spotlights members who have distinguished themselves by embodying the organization’s mission and values through their actions. We’re back with another Volunteer Spotlight edition to profile one of our newest volunteers, Peter Zangrillo, who has hit the ground running (and cycling, diving, swimming, and collecting tons of beach debris) since he started working with us this past spring.

Peter and his family moved to the Eagle Lake community on Orcas Island in March 2023 from Santa Fe, New Mexico, and immediately noticed a gem of a place just down the hill from their home.

Out in the “eastest” part of Orcas Island, the SJPT Northeast Shore Preserve (not to be confused with the new North Shore property near Eastsound, owned by the San Juan County Conservation Land Bank) is a narrow 17-acre band of rugged coastline property where nearly 4,000 feet of shoreline are protected. When Peter first arrived, the trail was steep, littered with debris from past storms, and the beach was strewn with washed-up garbage. He reached out to us to see how he could help improve it, and he certainly did that!

In addition to attending other SJPT events during the spring and summer, Peter has spent dozens of hours at his adopted preserve, hauling all sorts of trash (lines, buckets, chains, plywood, buoys, Styrofoam) away from the beach and carving out a new trail after a rockslide and fallen trees made the original one inaccessible for many of his Eagle Lake neighbors.

“I just can’t imagine not caring for the land we use,” Peter says. “I’ve always had the mindset that we don’t truly own land, we are just caring for it, and I believe in the importance of this. This just speaks to me.”

As if that work wasn’t inspiring enough, the monitoring reports that Peter submits after each outing verge on the poetic as they describe his observations, noting what this place does for his sense of wellbeing as well as that of other nearby residents, human and nonhuman alike.

Below are some of the inspiring and thoughtful observations that Peter has shared with us in his reports:

Peter’s trail handiwork has improved beach accessibility for neighbors at the Northeast Shore Preserve | Staff Archive

“I’m down at the preserve most mornings at dawn for a dip. I haven’t seen anyone but have been told by the community that more people have been using the preserve during the day and people are happy about the improved trail and shore access. A few Alders were cleared that fell and blocked trail …. Orcas, sea lions, seals, otters, eagles …. A pod of three orcas moved quietly north up the middle of the strait at sunrise this morning. Kelp forest is healthy and strong. Going to dive the shoreline Friday, should be nice.”

Peter (center) pulling Scotch broom at JB Farm Preserve | Jeff Brennan

“Saw the usual array of harbor seals, Steller sea lions, otters, and then a pod of six orcas came through, made their way south down the shoreline, very close to land, hunting the outer side of the kelp beds, on their way to Pt. Lawrence. Lots of finning and hunting activity … awesome. Such a special spot.”

“Quiet, calm morning. Slack flood tide. Sea was still … could hear voices from boaters moored at Clark Island. Remarkable how the sea carries sound. A few harbor seals, two porpoises and a bald eagle. I brought a crowbar down and walked north up the shoreline to dig out some large mooring ropes and leaded line that I’ve been wanting to get to for a while. Collected some trash. Hauled up 30 pounds of garbage …. Grateful for this place.”

“I noticed a tree, freshly down, splintered and with all its limbs and branches intact, has been acting as a sieve for the high-tide currents. Thin frail plastic ribbons in the process of decomposing gathering in tangled masses …. When I pick them up, they easily dissolve and break apart. The sea must be full of this stuff breaking down, in marine life, in our bodies. Some days it’s hard to come to terms with our effects on the planet.”

Homemade ink from tansy ragwort flowers | Peter Zangrillo

Beyond his work as one of our Preserve Stewards, Peter lives his values as someone who is mindful of climate change and other threats to Earth’s natural systems. When he volunteered to help at our 2023 summer social on San Juan Island, he bicycled the 21-plus miles (each way!) from Eagle Lake to the Orcas ferry landing. He also creates art by incorporating invasive plant species into various mediums, such as making ink out of tansy ragwort flowers.

“In under a year since meeting Peter, I have been astounded by his passion, curiosity, and dedication to these lands and waters,” says SJPT Land Steward Meghan Howard. “With his stewardship approach that is deeply rooted in respect and gratitude, Peter brings exceptional generosity and care to our conservation community. We’re grateful to be working alongside him!”

Want to volunteer, or know someone who does? 

We always appreciate more volunteers, especially in the shoulder seasons when we have the most work to do.

We want folks who can help us monitor protected properties, attend volunteer work parties, and lend a hand with various stewardship projects. These can be single instances or monthly occurrences, depending your capacity.

Please contact SJPT Volunteer & Outreach Coordinator Jack Russillo (jack@sjpt.org) if you are interested or have any questions for getting involved!