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Whidbey Camano Land Trust less than halfway to its $4.2 million Trillium goal

Eight days from the deadline, Whidbey Camano Land Trust is still far from its goal to raise $4.2 million to purchase the former Trillium Woods property.

The land trust has received about $1.7 million in cash and pledges, more than $2.5 million short of the amount it must raise by the June 10 deadline, said Elizabeth Guss, land trust director of outreach and development.

Guss, however, remains optimistic, noting that most of the funds raised to seal the land trust’s past few projects arrived at the last minute.

“I think the community will make it happen,” Guss said. “I think some people are waiting until the end. It’s still very possible if the whole community decides to step forward.”

She said trust officials have contacted all the potential large donors in the area in an effort to reach their goal.

“We have promise of gifts from some of these people, but until they come in, we don’t know what they are,” Guss said.

The trust has an option to buy the 664 acres between Freeland and Greenbank. It’s the largest single-owner forest remaining on Whidbey Island.

The wooded property adjacent to South Whidbey State Park is laced with more than 10 miles of trails and has been a popular hiking and horseback-riding area for island residents and visitors.

Known most recently as Estates at Whidbey, the property fell into foreclosure after its owner, who subdivided the property to contain more than 120 houses, ran into financial trouble with development barely under way.

The property was acquired at auction by three Snohomish County banks, which put it up for sale, granting the land trust first rights until June 10.

Trust officials and their supporters fear that if the trust fails to acquire the property, the parcel will be broken up and sold to developers.

“The higher probability is that it won’t be sold as a unit,” Guss said, “but we just don’t know.”

She said the bank won’t say if other parties are interested, or if the land trust’s deadline can be extended.

“It’s unclear what will happen,” Guss said.

Since mid-March, community groups and individuals have pushed to raise money for the purchase. Several fundraisers have been held and endorsements sought.

This past weekend, more than 100 hikers, bikers and horseback riders raised $110,000 in pledges and donations at trail rides organized by Island County Back Country Horsemen, M-Bar-C Ranch, Harmony Hills, Whidbey Walks and the Whidbey Animal Guild.

The events were so successful that another fundraiser is planned at M-Bar-C Ranch on June 5, to coincide with National Trails Day.

More than 80 community groups have endorsed the project, including the Whidbey Island Yacht Club, Holmes Harbor Rod & Gun Club, Whidbey Island Fly Fishing Club and the Island County Trails Council.

The trails council also offered to donate money for trail construction and maintenance once the property is acquired.

Local, regional and national elected officials have voiced support, including Congressman Rick Larsen.

Sixth-graders at South Whidbey Middle School are collecting pledges and donations. The South Whidbey Centaurs 4-H Club has started a competition between local 4-H clubs to see which can gather the most pledges.

Members of “Save the Trees” challenged the community to donate and offered to match.

Guss said that donations so far have been divided about 50-50 between cash and pledges. She said that many of the donations arrived with the stipulation that they be used for other land-trust projects if the Trillium acquisition fails.

The original 750-acre property, west of Highway 525 about a mile north of Mutiny Bay Road, 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 a failed attempt to stop the logging.

The property most recently was being developed by Dogwood Whidbey Development, created by Jesse Molnick and managed by his firm, the Molnick Group, based in Arlington.

Molnick fell into default on two loans totaling about $5 million, and the property was sold at public auction to the lien-holders this past fall on the county courthouse steps in Coupeville.

The land trust, dating to 1984, 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 the two islands from development by buying property and conservation easements, and has secured more than 6,100 acres to date.

“This is such a right thing to be doing,” Guss said of the Trillium campaign. “We’re very encouraged, but we need help from everyone.”

For information about the project, visit www.savetheforestnow.org or call 222-3310.

Community Events, April 2014

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