Island County commissioners last week awarded grants to two projects that will protect open space and expand walking trail systems in North and Central Whidbey.
The Whidbey Camano Land Trust will receive $92,000 from the county conservation futures fund to expand its Strawberry Point Preserve. The money will go toward acquiring an adjacent parcel of land and trail and parking easements to provide public access to more than 200 acres of open space, according to the funding request.
The 10-acre property is next to the nearly 90-acre preserve, which is where Whidbey’s lone elk Bruiser is known to reside. The trail easement will measure about one-mile in length and traverse through 100 acres of upland forest and grassland and connect to an existing trailhead and parking area. The preserve currently doesn’t have public access. A spokesperson for the Land Trust said the organization still needs more funding to construct the parking lot, and the property won’t be open to the public until this is completed— which will “hopefully” happen in the next few years, he said.
Commissioner Jill Johnson said at the board’s meeting last Tuesday she had been against the project until she visited the property. She said she was struck by the amount of biodiversity and unique landscape of the area.
“It’s more than just forest land to walk through,” she said.
“I’m excited about being a part of this project,” she later added.
Commissioner Janet St. Clair also noted the property’s value to the ecosystem with its wetlands that are important for storm water retention, water purification, aquifer recharge and habitat.
Commissioners also approved funding to the county parks department to expand the Kettles Recreation Area. The county had already purchased the 42-acre property located near Libbey Road using real estate excise tax, called REET, funding.
Last week’s approval to use conservation futures money to repay the REET fund will qualify the property for maintenance and operating grants through the conservation futures program.
Johnson had voted against the purchase of the property but said she voted yes last week to ensure there was a revenue source to maintain it.
The nature and agriculture preservation program is funded through a property tax.