News

Doctor prescribes open space

A retired Navy doctor has donated a large property off Zylstra Road on North Whidbey to the Whidbey Camano Land Trust.

Dr. George Fairfax’s gift will mean that the 50-acre parcel next to the Zylstra Road fire station will never be turned into a housing development, but will remain a home for the deer and birds forever. It will be named Del Fairfax Forest Preserve in honor of Fairfax’s late wife.

Fairfax, an Oak Harbor resident since 1965, purchased the property with his father in 1973 as an investment. Over the years, many people asked to purchase the land, but Fairfax didn’t want to let it go.

Eventually, he decided he would like to see the wild acreage preserved. He first offered the property to Island County, but officials told him they simply couldn’t afford to take on any more park land. They referred him to the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, a nonprofit group dedicated to protecting the county’s “natural and rural areas by working with private landowners, community groups and public agencies,” the Web site states.

Fairfax was immediately impressed with the group and its plans for the land.

“Their ideas were exactly like mine — to preserve the property forever but still allow people to have access,” he said. “I don’t know how long there will be properties like this left on the island.”

Fairfax fondly remembers the Puyallup and Auburn valleys of his youth as areas of rich farmland and tidy truck farms, and he laments that they are mostly developed today. He sees development gobbling up Whidbey in a similar fashion.

“I want to preserve some of the island the way it is,” he said.

According to Land Trust Executive Director Pat Powell, the 50-acre property has many features worthy of permanent protection. Much of the property is high-quality second growth Douglas fir forest, with a lush undergrowth of salal, swordfern, salmonberry, oceanspray, snowberry and wild rose. Other native plants include Indian plum, red elderberry, huckleberry, serviceberry and Oregon grape. Near the center of the property is a beautiful, 18-acre rolling hayfield edged on all sides by native forest and a small perennial wetland surrounded by alders with an understory of willow, sedges, spirea, and rushes.

Fairfax said the property is home to deer and plenty of birds, including a great horned owl and various raptors.

According to the Land Trust, they will maintain the property as wildlife habitat with healthy forest, wetland and pasture land. The property is closed temporarily until the group completes an interim management and public outreach plan. At that point, the Land Trust will make a low-impact public walking trails open to the public.

Powell noted that the property also has an array of ecological features that may eventually be of interest to classes in the nearby Oak Harbor school district as part of their environmental studies curriculum.

“I’ve watched beautiful areas full of trees and wildlife on Whidbey Island and all around the state cleared to the ground,” George’s daughter Roxanne Fairfax said. “I’ve seen industrial parks, strip malls and housing developments take the places where wilderness was once abundant. It has frustrated and saddened me until now. When my father found the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, he had an opportunity to preserve 50 acres of unspoiled land and all its wildlife. What a great gift.”

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynewstimes.com or call 675-6611.

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