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New trails named for Whidbey Island conservationists

South Whidbey State Park Head Ranger Patti Anderson congratulates Maurine Ryan on the naming of the latest trail addition to the park for Ryan and her late husband Al Ryan. - Photo courtesy of Save The Trees
South Whidbey State Park Head Ranger Patti Anderson congratulates Maurine Ryan on the naming of the latest trail addition to the park for Ryan and her late husband Al Ryan.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Save The Trees

As glaciers melt unnaturally fast and forests everywhere are felled, a life spent conserving the wilderness deserves recognition, if not sainthood.

Acting on a request by Save The Trees, the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission has named 7.4 acres of South Whidbey State Park the “Ryan Addition” after Whidbey conservationists Al and Maurine Ryan.

The honor includes naming a future trail in that section of the park the Ryan Trail.

Maurine Ryan lives at her family home near Coupeville. She celebrated her 101st birthday last May. Al Ryan died in 1985, leaving a legacy of protected land behind him.

“We accept the honor with deep appreciation,” Maurine Ryan said.

“But it takes many people and a great deal of effort into saving all these trees,” she added.

“Al and Maurine Ryan walked into the forest and stood before the loggers and their chainsaws back in 1977 and were instrumental in a long-term effort to stop the clearcutting of the old growth timber at Classic U, now part of South Whidbey State Park,” said April Sanders, president of Save The Trees.

“Through their organization, Save Whidbey Island for Tomorrow they also saved the spectacular beach at Keystone Spit, now in Fort Casey State Park”, Sanders added.

Sanders said Save The Trees was thrilled to make the announcement with Ryan present on Aug. 11. It was the anniversary of the day 30 years ago when more than 100 people — including the Ryans — made history and stopped loggers from cutting old growth on the Classic U land.

It is believed that the 1977 event marked the first time in North America that people entered a forest to stop active clearcutting.

Before he died Al Ryan had summarized his efforts as: “We must leave future generations a glimpse of how God created this world; not just what it looked like when we got through with it.”

The Ryans were mentors to generations of young people in promoting awareness about land conservation.

Prior to moving to Whidbey Island in 1971, the Ryans began a mentoring program for students as part of the San Fernando Valley Audubon Society. They used the principle of “each one teach one” as students learned to conduct guided nature trail walks for up to 1,000 people daily, including inner city children and people with disabilities.

In 1969, Al Ryan received national recognition with the American Motors Conservation Award and a citation from the California Conservation Council.

The Ryans were also crucial in the establishment of Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve and helped to start the first Whidbey Island Audubon Society.

They were mentors to Sanders’ father, as well, the late Jerry Sanders, who was also president of Save the Trees back in the late ‘70s.

“I was 17 and came home one day and my father said, ‘We’ve got a lot of calls to make.’ He handed me a phone book and told me to call as many people as I could to stop the loggers,” April Sanders recalled.

“The Ryans were important to my father and a lot of other people on the island,” she added.

“It was a great honor to meet with Maurine Ryan,” said Patti Anderson, head ranger at South Whidbey State Park.

“I am looking forward to developing an ADA (handicap accessible) trail in the Ryans’ honor to allow all visitors access to this unique forest ecosystem.”

A total of 7.3 acres was added to South Whidbey State Park last October after the community rallied to prevent the sale of private property near the Wilbert Trail.

Save The Trees has advocated for an ADA accessible trail that would go from the newest section of the park to the old-growth cedar grove containing one of the park’s largest ancient trees.

“Al was so good at leading the nature trail walks. It’s important to get people interested in knowing the trails and wanting to keep them,” Maurine Ryan said.

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