North Sound Land Trusts meet to share knowledge and beautiful views

- Blog

On Friday, June 2nd, the Washington Association of Land Trusts (WALT) and Skagit Land Trust (SLT) hosted the first regional peer meetup for land trusts of 2023. The group of 36 people included staff from land trusts that work in the North Puget Sound region, including San Juan Preservation Trust, Whidbey Camano Land Trust, Whatcom Land Trust, Forterra, Lummi Island Heritage Trust, and of course SLT and WALT. Upon arriving, participants were greeted by the forested cathedral entrance to the Samish Island Conservation Area (SICA), or what locals call the “coming home” view. 

The day started with a tour of this dynamic property as SLT staff shared the story of how they protected this special place that was at risk of development.  The 34.25 acres of forested uplands, known as the Samish Flower Farm, and 121 acres at the entrance of Samish Island, were acquired by Skagit Land Trust through transactions over the course of the past four years, although SLT has been working on conservation efforts at the entrance to Samish Island for the past 25 years. This now includes 6,896 feet of coastal shoreline and a 100 year old forest.

During the tour, SLT’s development staff shared their insights about how they have effectively raised the dollars needed for the acquisitions. This has been a truly community effort – more than 500 local families, businesses, and organizations pitched in to protect this special place, with many people in the community donating multiple times over the years. They have also had numerous other partners including the Coast Salish tribes such as the Samish Indian Nation, The Conservation Fund, federal grant partners such as National Coastal Wetlands and NAWCA, and state grant partners such as Washington’s Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program. Support from this extended community has played an important part in the journey that is conserving the entrance to Samish Island – a place of significance for thousands of years for the Coast Salish People.

We also heard from stewardship staff about the significant rehabilitation done to the property, including removing litter, abandoned cars and a large structure. Since SLT purchased and began caring for the land, the property has become a sanctuary not only for native wildlife, but also educational groups. SLT is currently doing site studies and evaluating restoration potential for the property. They are also working with local partners, such as the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, the Samish Indian Nation, WA Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Ducks Unlimited on how to achieve a sustainable vision for all who rely on, or treasure, this beautiful land. 

During our tour, SLT also shared the work they are doing with infrastructure like dikes to protect the property from storms and flooding. Participants from multiple land trusts chatted about how they are managing the impacts of climate change on their properties.

The coast of SICA is part of Padilla Bay, an incredibly important ecological site within the Puget Sound. Padilla Bay contains the second largest area of eelgrass across the western United States. This habitat is vital to the lives of salmon, crabs, and migratory birds. During low tide, mud flats  and eelgrass blanket the surrounding shores. We were there at a very low tide time and it seemed like we could have walked all the way to the islands in the distance. SLT’s education staff shared with us about how they work with schools to do environmental education on the mudflats and are even developing an official curriculum for teachers.

Following the morning tour, we headed to SLT’s Miles Property on Samish Island. As we entered, we were greeted by birdsong. The forest in this area provides habitat to many birds including owls, Osprey, Cooper’s Hawks, and Bald Eagles.

After networking over lunch from a local eatery, we split up into affinity groups, allowing people who do different functions at each land trust to share about successes, problem solve challenges, and brainstorm ideas for future development together. These focus areas included Land Conservation, Stewardship, Development, Outreach/Education, and Executive Leadership/Organizational Management. The energy was palpable as we spent hours circled up in this idyllic space. Some groups even did activities – the outreach/education and development groups showed each other examples of their work. Big thanks to the SLT staff, who skillfully facilitated each of these groups!

Topics discussed ranged from innovative ways to conserve and steward properties to how to build better relationships with landowners to tips on writing great fundraising appeals. One common conversation in all groups was how to integrate Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion into all aspects of our work, whether that’s in approaches to project evaluation and strategic planning, stewarding the land with cultural respect, developing conservation easements with cultural activities and access language, collaborating with diverse partners in projects and education work, and more.

Following a fruitful discussion, we rejoined as a collective and shared the takeaways from each group’s conversation. And after a day out in the sun, we headed to a local brewstillery afterwards for a little happy hour where the great conversations continued. WALT is incredibly grateful to all the participants who joined the meetup and to Skagit Land Trust for co-hosting the event, it was great to spend time in person working and learning together. We can’t wait to continue hosting regional events for our Washington land Trusts, so look out for one in your region soon!

To see more pictures from the event, check out our album on facebook here.