By Ron Newberry
For the Whidbey News-Times
Even though he lives in Snohomish, Tom Silliman still manages to keep close tabs on a piece of South Whidbey land that’s dear to his family. He’s watched restoration work transform the land and shares the progress with his sister, Becky Silliman, in Rhode Island.
Two years ago, the Silliman siblings donated eight acres to the Whidbey Camano Land Trust with the hope that such improvements would take place.
Most of the preserve is intact forest and wetlands along Maxwelton Creek, and the creek itself flows through a corner of the property.
But the most prominent portion, where a small chicken farm once stood by the road corner, was covered by invasive blackberry bushes when the land trust acquired it.
That has since been cleared to make way for hundreds of native trees and shrubs.
The plantings started in the fall but are still in the early stages. The land trust plans for more than 1,300 native plants to go into the ground. It’s all part of the organization’s goal to enhance fish and wildlife habitat and help protect a functioning wetland system in the Maxwelton watershed.
“That has been our dream,” Tom Silliman said.
The Silliman siblings have fond childhood memories of the land, which was once owned by their grandfather, Henry Silliman.
They remember exploring the property as children and catching fish and crayfish in the creek.
Tom and Becky Silliman purchased separate pieces of the land in 1991 from John Patton, planning to one day to return it to a more natural state.
“Growing up in my generation, we had pretty much free run of the whole area,” Tom Silliman said. “We came to appreciate everything about it. It was paradise for us. That kind of set the stage of us reacquiring the property later from the Pattons.”
“It was always our intention, based on growing up in paradise, to preserve that property.”
Community volunteers have been busy helping restore the land. The property is being planted with native willows, Douglas fir, big leaf maple, salmonberry, thimbleberry and snowberry.
“Getting it back to native South Whidbey forest is our goal,” said Ryan Elting, land trust conservation director. “We want to increase native habitat in that area for fish and wildlife.”
The restoration is being funded by a legacy gift from Ned and Betty Lowry, a grant from the U.S. Natural Resources Conservation Service and a donation from the Whidbey Island Garden Tour.
The Silliman Preserve is located near the corner of French and Maxwelton roads, –across from the Little Brown Church.
• The Whidbey Camano Land Trust is a nonprofit nature conservation organization. For more information, visit www.wclt.org, email email@example.com or call 360-222-3310.