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UPDATE | Trust hopes to purchase Trillium land near Freeland

The Whidbey Camano Land Trust has an option to buy 664 acres of the former Trillium Woods property between Freeland and Greenbank.

The nonprofit conservation organization is trying to raise $4.2 million to purchase the property, the largest single-owner piece of forest land remaining on Whidbey Island.

If the purchase is completed, the land would remain a forest and wildlife habitat, and a community natural and recreational area, under a permanent conservation easement, land trust officials say.

With such an easement, the property would be owned by a nonprofit organization, a government agency or a private party, and would be managed by the land trust. Ownership details are being worked out, Pat Powell, land trust executive director, said Tuesday.

The trust has until June 10 to raise the $4.2 million to buy the property.

“It’s a one-time chance, and we’re going to do everything we can,” Powell said. “If we’re able to do it, it will be a treasure forever.”

She said that while the land trust has been working to try to acquire the property since the property went into foreclosure late last year, the fundraising effort is just getting under way.

“We need major donations,” Powell said. “If anyone knows a million-dollar donor, they should get in touch with us.”

She said the bank that owns the property has given the land trust the first opportunity to buy it. Powell said there have been a number of offers for pieces of the property, and that if the land-trust effort fails, the property will be parceled off.

“That would be a tragedy,” she said.

And not just for those working to preserve the forest.

Land-trust officials say that adding more than 120 building lots to the island’s already-depressed real estate market would further drive down the value of property here.

The land has had a boisterous 30-year history.

In 1988, it was the site of controversy when Trillium Corporation of Bellingham, owners at the time, clearcut the area.

Protesters gathered at the property and blocked an entrance in an attempt to stop the logging. The demonstrations helped launch the Whidbey Environmental Action Network (WEAN), an eco-watchdog group that has since worked to protect the island from the impacts of development.

“That property has been painful to us all these many years,” Marianne Edain of Langley, a founder of WEAN, said Tuesday.

She said the group originally hoped the property would become part of the nearby state park, “but that didn’t happen.”

“The ball is in their court, and this is what they do well,” Edain said of the land trust. “I have faith they’ll pull it off. If anyone can, it’s them.”

While logging was permitted through the years, the forest is beginning to grow again, Powell said.

“The nice thing about a forest is, it’s renewable,” Powell said. “Given a little help, it will be incredible. If you put up houses, that won’t happen.”

After extensive logging, the property was sold and subdivided for planned residential developments of more than 120 houses, but that project fell into bankruptcy and was taken over by banks in Snohomish County late last year.

The Freeland Water and Sewer District recently bought 80 acres to use for an outfall for its proposed sewer system.

The original 750-acre property, known most recently as Estates at Whidbey, is west of Highway 525 about a mile north of Mutiny Bay Road.

It was being developed by Dogwood Whidbey Development, created by Jesse Molnick and managed by The Molnick Group, his development, investment and brokerage firm based in Arlington.

Molnick fell into default on two loans, one for about $3.3 million, the other about $1.6 million, both from Shoreline Bank.

In the default auction, the bank bid on the property in conjunction with two other banks, North County Bank of Arlington and Coastal Community Bank of Everett.

The property has more than 10 miles of riding trails, said Jerry Lloyd of Greenbank, a member of the island chapter of the Backcountry Horsemen of Washington.

He said Tuesday that there are about 50 horse-riding members of the local club, but that many more horse enthusiasts live on land surrounding the Trillium property and ride through the area regularly.

Lloyd said the property also is important for the M-Bar-C Ranch of Freeland. Many of the trails were established by founding family members of the ranch, he said.

He said the ranch not only uses the trails to organize horseback rides to reward volunteers, but it holds a fundraising event each summer for contributors to it’s Forgotten Children’s Fund in which riding the Trillium trails is a big part.

Lloyd said he had worked closely with Molnick to convince him to preserve the riding trails running through his development, and that he’s trying to get him to release site maps and surveys to help the land trust in its effort to manage the property.

“That property is one of the reasons why I live where I live,” Lloyd said of his 15 acres on nearby Plantation Ridge. “I’ve always been optimistic that it would be saved.”

Incorporated in 1984, the land trust is a local nonprofit organization working to protect natural habitats, scenic vistas and working farms and forests in partnership with landowners and the community.

It permanently protects land on Whidbey and Camano islands from development by buying property and conservation easements, and has secured more than 6,100 acres to date.

Land-trust officials said that if its effort to acquire the Trillium property fails, money raised would be applied to purchase of other island forest property eyed for conservation.

For information about the land trust’s proposal, visit www.savetheforestnow.org or http://www.wclt.org.

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