The financial sacrifice of a few was the gain of all Central Whidbey recently when nearly 250 acres of farm and wetland were forever protected from the threat of development.
Late last month, the Whidbey Camano Land Trust wrapped up conservation easements on five properties within Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve, totaling about 90 acres of farmland.
And shortly before that, the land trust secured the last of a series of properties acquired in 2012 on the east end of Crockett Lake, culminating the preservation of almost 150 acres of pristine wetland and migratory bird habitat.
“We’re just delighted these properties are protected because I think it’s going to be to the benefit of all Island County residents,” said Tom Cahill, who was president of the organization’s board of directors last year.
Ebey’s Reserve officials are hailing the conservation effort a success, calling it a significant achievement for the land trust and a generous gift from participating landowners.
“These lands have been identified as high priorities for protection for more than a decade,” Reserve Manager Mark Preiss said. “They are integral to the reserve’s mission.”
Three of the five properties protected in December belong to members of the Pickard family. Siblings Jan and Ken Pickard sold easements on two properties totaling 33 acres, between Engle and Fort Casey Road, and the family’s LLC sold development rights on 23 acres across from Ebey Bowl on the north side of Terry Road.
After more than 30 years of preservation efforts in the reserve, the properties are like islands in a sea of already protected land.
“We’re the last ones on the prairie,” said Ken, with a laugh.
But neither he nor his sister begrudge the wait. Both have long been champions of preservation efforts within the reserve, with Ken being one of those responsible for its creation in 1978 and Jan serving multiple terms on the trust board.
They even donated portions of their total profit margins to leverage additional grant money so even more property could be protected. The family LLC donated $50,000, Ken $25,000 and Jan $121,750 — a whopping 25 percent of her total profit.
“It’s an incredible gift that she gave,” said Pat Powell, executive director for the land trust. “I call her the heroine of Ebey’s Reserve.”
Jan, however, just smiled at the compliment. She said she was happy to get anything at all. If no money had become available, she said she would have simply given the development rights away.
“Getting something out of it is fantastic — I feel real good about it,” she said, with a smile.
“Living up here is a huge gift,” she said.
The Engle family also sold rights on 23 acres of property, located behind the bowling alley on Terry Road. Property owners included Len, Bob and Bill Engle and Joanne Brown.
Like the Pickards, the family had been waiting a long time for preservation funding to become available. The land could have been subdivided into four lots and sold for a greater price, but Len Engle said all agreed that preservation was the direction they wanted to take
“It just seemed like the right thing to do,” he said.
Finally, Judy Lynn sold the rights to the large parcel of farmland located south of Highway 20 just past Arnold Road. About 13 acres total, it’s the first piece of property protected in the reserve that’s north of Penn Cove.
Lynn inherited it from her partner, the late Val Arnold, who passed away from brain cancer in 2005. She was a fourth generation Arnold and believed strongly in the value of preservation, Lynn said.
“She would be very happy to know that this is protected and will never be developed,” Lynn said. “She was a farmer at heart.”
The money used to purchase the easements for all five properties — totaling more than $1.9 million — came from a variety of county, state and federal funding sources, Powell said.
The protection of about 150 acres at Crockett Lake came from similar sources along with two land donations: Mary Bicknell gave 17 acres to the land trust, and brothers Dixon and Kelle Burgess gave 5 acres.
Added up, the land trust raised about $2.5 million to preserve or buy outright all the properties protected in the reserve in 2012.
While Powell gave special kudos to all the landowners involved, saying their willingness and generosity was extraordinary, those who worked with the organization said it was the land trust who should be recognized.
“The deep commitment of the staff and board continue to inspire all of us,” Preiss said.