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Battle of Saratoga Woods to be preserved at historical museum

South Whidbey Historical Society President Bob Waterman looks over documents from the campaign to save Saratoga Woods in Langley on Wednesday. With him are Elizabeth Guss of the Whidbey-Camano Land Trust; Cary Peterson and Cynthia Tilkin, who worked on the campaign; and Diane Kendy, who spearheaded the six-year effort. - Photo courtesy of Linda Beeman
South Whidbey Historical Society President Bob Waterman looks over documents from the campaign to save Saratoga Woods in Langley on Wednesday. With him are Elizabeth Guss of the Whidbey-Camano Land Trust; Cary Peterson and Cynthia Tilkin, who worked on the campaign; and Diane Kendy, who spearheaded the six-year effort.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of Linda Beeman

An important chunk of South Whidbey history wound up in an appropriate place this week.

Files documenting the six-year battle to preserve Saratoga Woods north of Langley were presented Wednesday to the South Whidbey Historical Society.

“It represents what a community can accomplish when we all come together,” said Betty Azar of Freeland, one of the founding members of Save the Woods on Saratoga.

Spearheaded by Azar, Frances Abel of Langley and especially Diane Kendy of Langley, the group battled loggers, developers and other special-interest groups to turn 118 acres, including a stand of mature forest, into a county park.

“I’m delighted the historical society will get them,” Kendy said of the “files and files” of documents. “I never considered it a part of history, but it really is.”

“This was a major event for the South Whidbey community,” Bob Waterman, president of the historical society, said of the campaign. “It will be nice to have a record of the process.”

The effort to preserve the property along Saratoga Road about three miles north of the city extended from 1995 to 2001 and featured many ups and downs, fundraisers, lawsuits and a push for county growth management.

“Zoning was wide open in the county at that time,” Kendy said. “It was all part of the battle.”

At one time the property was slated to be developed into a 137-home subdivision, and later a 200-room destination resort.

About 48 acres included an old farmstead, a section of waterfront property and a trails easement to other trust property. The remainder included an old, unpaved airfield and a large stand of second-growth trees.

As the fight wore on, the area continued to be, as it had been for a decade, a popular illegal dumping ground for garbage, derelict cars and appliances.

Discarded items found during the eventual clean-up included a large oil tank, car tires, sheet metal, rusted fencing and bags of household garbage — and that didn’t include trash at the largest dumping area, the airfield.

Working with Whidbey-Camano Land Trust and many other community groups, lawyers and other individuals, Save the Woods on Saratoga filed petitions and raised $750,000 to purchase the property and turn it into a pubic nature preserve.

Today the area features walking, bicycling and equestrian trails through pristine, mature forest land.

“It’s a magical place,” Kendy said. “Basically, we are leaving it the way it is forever. It’s pretty much nature at its best.”

Azar said it’s the only place left on South Whidbey that shows what a rain forest looks like.

“I promised those trees they were not going to be cut down,” Azar said. “It’s sacred, it’s hallowed. Future generations are just going to be blown away.”

“It was definitely a group effort, the community coming together to accomplish this,” she continued. “It shows you where the values of South Whidbey lie.”

Waterman said he hopes the historical society can put many of the Saratoga documents online to share with the wider community. He said the group is in the process of updating its Web site.

“We’re trying to make it a virtual museum,” he said. “These documents would certainly be a worthwhile part of it.”

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