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Whidbey Camano Land Trust challenge: $4.2 million by June 10

The 664 acres of the irregularly shaped Trillium property is located on South Whidbey, between South Whidbey State Park and Freeland. The Whidbey Camano Land Trust has an option to buy the property for $4.2 million, but the group needs to raise the funds by June 10. The Land Trust wants to preserve the large property as a natural area where people can hike, bike and horseback ride, among other activities.  - Image courtesy of Whidbey Camano Land Trust
The 664 acres of the irregularly shaped Trillium property is located on South Whidbey, between South Whidbey State Park and Freeland. The Whidbey Camano Land Trust has an option to buy the property for $4.2 million, but the group needs to raise the funds by June 10. The Land Trust wants to preserve the large property as a natural area where people can hike, bike and horseback ride, among other activities.
— image credit: Image courtesy of Whidbey Camano Land Trust

The Whidbey Camano Land Trust is attempting what is probably the biggest fundraiser in Whidbey history in order to save the largest single-owner piece of forest land remaining on the island.

And the race is on. The land trust has until June 10 to raise the $4.2 million required to purchase the 664 acres of the Trillium property located between Greenbank and Freeland on South Whidbey.

The Whidbey Camano Land Trust, a nonprofit group with offices in Greenbank, purchased an option to buy the property.

If the purchase is completed, then the land trust would hold a permanent conservation easement on the land, which would prevent any development. The property would become a community natural area where people can hike, bike, go horseback riding and possibly even do a little deer hunting.

The land trust is undertaking an aggressive fundraising campaign with a dedicated Web site, savetheforestnow.org, social media sites, community outreach and the obligatory buttons.

“People are responding very positively and we’re very encouraged,” said Sherrye Wyatt, a public relations writer who is working on the campaign. “A lot of people have an emotional connection to the land.”

Wyatt said land trust representatives would be thrilled to speak to any groups that are interested. Contact the Whidbey Camano Land Trust at 360-222-3310.

The Trillium woods has a storied history on South Whidbey. The land was owned by timber companies and periodically logged over the years. It was the site of protests in 1988 when the Trillium Corporation of Bellingham, owners at the time, clearcut the area.

The distressed residents tried in vain to block the entrance to the property to prevent logging. The protests helped launch the Whidbey Environmental Action Network, commonly known as WEAN, an eco-watchdog group that has worked to protect the island from the impacts of development.

The land was recently subdivided into 124 housing lots, but the project fell into bankruptcy and was taken over by banks in Snohomish County last year. The Freeland Water and Sewer District recently bought 80 acres to use for an outfall for its proposed sewer system.

“It’s a wonderful regenerated forest. In 20 years, it will be a spectacular regenerated forest,” Tom Cahill, president of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust, said.

He added that protecting the property would have dramatic economic impacts on the island. It would not only draw tourists, but it would help preserve the rural character and the quality of the life of South Whidbey — which keep property values high. In addition, land trust officials point out that adding 124 more lots to the depressed real estate market would likely drive down the prices of existing lots.

Cahill admits that the property could ultimately end up in public hands, if the fundraising is successful. That would mean the property tax burden would be spread to the rest of the county property owners. It would be a very small amount, he said, and worth it for the public benefit of preserving the wild property for countless generations.

Of course, the property also has significant ecological value. The land has mature stands of Douglas fir, western hemlock and red alder interspersed with wetlands and streams. A diversity of species live in the woods, including deer, coyotes, bats, great horned owls, screech owls, kestrels and song birds.

While the Whidbey Camano Land Trust is famous for obtaining grant money, land steward Cheryl Lowe said that the June 10 deadline is coming too quickly to fit into any grant cycles.

For more information about the campaign or to donate, visit www.savetheforestnow.org.

South Whidbey Record reporter Roy Jacobson contributed to the story.

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