Letters to the Editor

Land Trust works to preserve Island wilderness for the entire community

“Are you from the Land Trust?”

It was a sparkling Thursday morning three weeks ago. I was standing on Cedarhurst Road at the top of the path to Fern Cove, where a dozen youngsters, including two of my grandchildren, were beginning another day of the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust’s week-long summer camp.

The questioner was a mother with a son among the campers. When I answered, “Yes, I’m a member of the land trust board,” she said:

“This camp is wonderful, and I want to thank the land trust for sponsoring it.”

She added, “The best part is that our son can now guide us on hikes to the places in the woods and on the shoreline that he’s discovered this week.”

Thanks for the compliment. We at the land trust have two responses.

First, all credit to Barbara Gustafson, nature guide extraordinaire. For the second summer, Barbara and her young adult son, Alex, took a score of boys and girls in the 7-to-11 age group and introduced them to the wonders of Vashon’s natural world.

Over five days, the youngsters visited five different areas. They stalked frogs in the ponds of Island Center Forest and found snakes and salamander eggs.

They tramped the beach to Point Robinson on a minus tide, spotting starfish and sand dollars. They measured water temperature.

Hand in hand and closely watched, they took a blindfolded walk in the woods near Shinglemill Creek.

“That was really cool,” my grandson Brendon reported.

All these impressions went into daily journals kept by each camper.

So successful is Barbara’s approach that the first of this year’s two camp sessions was entirely made up of kids who went last year and wanted to do it again. When preteens choose time in the woods over computer games, you know you’re on the right track.

Second, we at the land trust couldn’t be happier that summer campers are encouraging their parents, and others, to explore the various land trust nature preserves. Through regular property tours, work parties and our series of trail maps, we’re doing the same thing — alerting Islanders to pockets of precious forest and shoreline habitat scattered across our Islands. Public access to land trust preserves is one of our top priorities.

Yet, despite this populist approach, we still hear occasional grumbles about environmental elitism — the lingering belief of a few that the land trust exists solely to grab as much of the remaining undeveloped land on Vashon and Maury as possible in order to create some sort of bottled up pristine wilderness, off-limits to the average Islander.

Wrong! As we approach our 20th anniversary, the suggestion that the land trust is out of touch with the Island mainstream is patently false.

Support for the land trust’s mission of preserving the natural character of Vashon and Maury Islands has never been stronger. Fourteen percent of Island households — around 650 — are land trust members, a number that grows year after year. We also count members of the real estate community and many Island businesses among our consistent supporters.

As a nonprofit charitable organization, we’re properly transparent. Our finances are public, and our meetings are open.

Our approach to preservation is thoughtful and strategic. Land we attempt to acquire must rank high on a scorecard of environmental values.

Examples are our long-term focus on preserving the watersheds of salmon-bearing Shinglemill and Judd creeks. Cooperative partnerships with the Vashon Park District and King County and Washington State governments have been critical to our success.

And through it all is our belief that the more people walk the trails and beaches, enjoy the woods, ponds, creeks and meadows, the more they’ll value the special nature of our islands.

Vashon isn’t the North Cascades. We measure our wilderness not in square miles but in single digit acres.

Yet, in a region of increasing development and sprawl, we understand the moment we leave the ferry that our two islands are apart from the mainland and that the essence of this difference is our collective determination to maintain a hands-on connection with our watery and woodsy neighborhood.

The Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust is every Islander’s partner in maintaining this defining character of our Island home. We’ve been working at it for nearly 20 years. The details are often complicated, but the goal, as illustrated by an enthusiastic youngster’s first walk in the woods, is really as simple as that.

— Maury Island resident Eugene Carlson is serving his second term as a director of the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust.

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