Yes, Let’s Talk about the Land Bank and Trails | Guest Column

Lincoln Bormann, Director

San Juan County Conservation Land Bank

Ron Whalen’s accusations regarding Land Bank involvement in the Town to Zylstra Trail create a great opportunity to set the record straight and highlight Land Bank trails projects countywide.

First, no, the Land Bank was not behind the potential trail on San Juan Valley Road. This has been a Public Works project from the start, and is noted during the August 19, 2022, Land Bank Commission meeting. After hearing the project mentioned at a Council meeting, Commissioner Skoog wanted to make sure the record showed the effort was “not a Land Bank project.” [View recording here at 13:22]

Many of the other projects listed in the ROSS plan are underway; thanks to Mr. Whalen for providing. These include three miles of trail at Beaverton Marsh Preserve: Dragonfly Loop off Halvorsen Road opened in 2023 and we are nearing completion of a new trailhead connecting John O. Linde Community Park to the Preserve, hopefully opening this summer. This trail adds a new activity for Linde Park visitors – exploring the forest beyond. Ultimately, we hope to link Linde Park across the marsh to the Halvorsen Road side.

At Cady Mountain Preserve, we are working toward opening a trailhead off Three Corner Lake Road which will connect visitors to the Roche Harbor Highland property and the upland portion of the English Camp unit of SJI National Historical Park and all the way to Roche Harbor proper, a distance of more than six miles with many other trail options as well. A trail to the top of Cady Mountain will be added in the future.

On Lopez, we’ve been working to extend trails on Lopez Hill after our 2021 acquisition of an adjacent 75 acres from the Lopez Community Land Trust (LCLT is creating affordable farmsteads on the part it retained).

On Orcas, trail improvements at Turtleback Mountain Preserve included decommissioning the crumbling road up the south side of the mountain and replacing it with more scenic and walker-friendly paths. At the Northshore Property, purchased in 2022, staff has been working diligently to prepare the Preserve for public use. Orcas has very little publicly accessible shoreline; much of that via four existing Land Bank Preserves. The addition of one-third mile of sandy and gravel shoreline dramatically expands public beach access options on Orcas. And it has been a huge undertaking, requiring demolition of a number of dilapidated structures, and a full reconditioning of the old road that slanted its way down the 75-foot bluff. Still to come are creating a trailhead with parking and facilities. We expect to open the Preserve this fall.

The item that Mr. Whalen highlights in his letter, “$50,000 working with TMG” partners on long-distance trails does not involve the Town to Zylstra trail. Established in 2011, the Terrestrial Manager’s Group (TMG) is a collaboration of all conservation land managers in the County: National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish & Wildlife Service, WA State Parks, County Parks, and the San Juan Preservation Trust, all of whom manage trails on their properties. The TMG addresses issues that extend across agency boundaries in order to take an islands-wide approach to problem-solving.

We encourage everyone to make use of the trails the Land Bank and other conservation managers provide. They are an invaluable addition to the community, providing places for islanders to find solace, exercise, make core memories with family, and enjoy the wondrous beauty of this place we call home.