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Forest lovers take to horseback

Jim Haas, atop an M-Bar-C Ranch horse named Justin, pauses for a moment with a group of riders during a two-hour trail ride Sunday at a wooden cross, which holds emotional significance to those who have spread ashes from deceased family members on the Trillium property.   - Jenny Manning/ Whidbey News-Times
Jim Haas, atop an M-Bar-C Ranch horse named Justin, pauses for a moment with a group of riders during a two-hour trail ride Sunday at a wooden cross, which holds emotional significance to those who have spread ashes from deceased family members on the Trillium property.
— image credit: Jenny Manning/ Whidbey News-Times

After a weekend fundraiser, the Whidbey Camano Land Trust is $100,000 closer to saving the former Trillium woods north of Freeland.

The property covers an area of 664 acres and is the largest single-owner tract of forest land remaining on Whidbey Island. Plans are being developed to preserve the wildlife and amenities.

“We have to move fast and we have to move together,” said Todd Peterson of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust.

The nonprofit organization is working to raise $4.2 million to purchase the property, which fell into foreclosure last year. A company that wanted to develop the land was unable keep up with the payments and it was acquired by Snohomish County banks.

The land trust has until June 10 to come up with the funds.

“We still have a way to go,” Peterson told the crowd, adding that the trust will release the current total soon.

At Sunday’s fundraiser, over 50 horseback riders along with hikers and bicyclists met at M-Bar-C Ranch in support of the project. Over the years, wildlife and outdoor-lovers have reclaimed the undeveloped land.

“We wanted to get locals to see what we are working on,” said Jerry Lloyd, a proponent of the purchase.

If the property is secured, Peterson says the land would remain a wildlife habitat and a recreational area under a conservation easement. The forest would be owned by Island County and the land trust would fund and develop a site-management plan, he said.

“We want to make this a minimal to zip impact on the county,” said Lloyd.

The land trust group said that should the drive fail, the land will likely be sold in small parcels and developed.

Since the campaign was launched earlier this year, several donors and supporters have stepped forward. The biggest fundraising boost came from best-selling author Elizabeth George who donated $100,000. A number of small donors have also lined up.

Lloyd said that many parts of the forest hold special significance for locals. During the tour of the horse trails Sunday, a group paused at the site of a wooden cross.

“Locals and founders have family members ashes at that cross,” said Lloyd. “There are both emotional and environmental reasons to save this.”

The land trust has the first opportunity to purchase the property, and Peterson said they are exploring more options such as low-interest rate bridge loans, should the group get close.

To donate, pledge, or learn more, visit savetheforest.org or call 360-222-3310.

More Trillium at the ranch

The public is invited to celebrate National Trails Day and bring their pledges for Trillium to M-Bar-C Ranch on Saturday, June 5. The event begins at 10 a.m. with riders, hikers and bikers encouraged to begin arriving at the ranch around 9 a.m. Lunch will follow the tour, along with a presentation about Trillium with guest speaker Joel Connelly, Seattle P-I columnist. Those who wish to skip the tour and just enjoy the program should arrive at noon. Pledges and donations for the campaign will be collected. The ranch is located at 5264 Shore Meadow Road, off Bush Point Road, near Freeland. To reserve a place, call Jerry Lloyd at 206-730-2519 or e-mail Jerrytoy@whidbey.com.

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