By NATALIE MARTIN
When Jim and Elaine Scott moved to their property at the mouth of Judd Creek 50 years ago, the creek teemed with salmon.
But now the Scotts, 93 and 88 respectively, haven’t seen a salmon outside their home in years. While coho and chum salmon do still make their way up the stream, their numbers, as in all of Puget Sound, are a fraction of their historic levels.
“You used to hear them splashing and going by, but you don’t anymore,” Jim said.
The Vashon Maury Island Land Trust now hopes to see that trend reversed. In what some are calling the most significant conservation purchase on Vashon in recent history — aside from the purchase of the Glacier property on Maury Island — the Scotts recently sold their 10-acre plot at Judd Creek to the land trust.
The acquisition, officials say, is a boon to local conservation efforts, protecting one of Vashon’s only estuaries and adding a vital piece to the land trust’s 100-acre Paradise Valley Preserve.
“Salmon are being dealt a death of a thousand cuts,” said land trust director Tom Dean. “We’re trying to do a thousand acts of kindness for salmon.”
The $725,000 purchase, made official last week, was the first purchase largely funded by a $4 million allocation the state Legislature set aside earlier this year for open space preservation on Vashon. The land trust purchased the property and will grant King County an easement there in order to partner with it on conservation projects.
“It’s really special for the land trust to be able to deliver such a high-habitat-quality piece as the very first purchase on this,” Dean said. “It shows there was really a need for that fund.”
Last week the Scotts, in an interview at their home, said they, too, were pleased with the purchase. The couple will stay in their home for as long as they wish, renting it back from the land trust while allowing some conservation work to begin at the stream.
“I think it’s an honor to give it to the preserve,” Elaine said.
Jim Scott purchased the property tucked in the woods off of Vashon Highway in 1958, when he was looking for a forested property on the island similar to where he grew up in North Bend.
“(My realtor) said to buy waterfront, which I should have done, but I’m from the sticks,” he said. “I wanted seclusion.”
The Scotts and their blended family of four children lived in the former cabin of Artemus Judd, the creek’s namesake, for a time while building their own place.
Today their home — a modest, two-story house rebuilt in 1991 after a fire destroyed the original one — sits at the bottom of a forested ravine and is perched just above Judd Creek. Picture windows and a large deck provide an impressive view down the mouth of Judd Creek — framed by the Judd Creek bridge — and into Quartermaster Harbor. Their short gravel road is now home to two other houses as well.
Last week the Scotts reflected on their decades at the mouth of Judd Creek, which Elaine calls “a paradise, as far as I’m concerned.”
“It’s a sanctuary for birds and wildlife,” she said. “That’s why I love it.”
At a cabin on the property just outside Burton, Elaine started a successful candle business, selling her handmade candles on Vashon and distributing them throughout the Northwest. Jim had a long career at Boeing before owning a real estate company on the island for a short time.
The area is an ideal place for kids, and their children explored the surrounding forest, played in the stream and fished in a pond Jim made and stocked with trout until one year when river otters came from the harbor and ate them all.
The couple still keeps a Polaroid photo of an octopus that in 1964 made its way up the mouth of the creek. Children from Burton Elementary made a special trip to look at the creature from the bridge above.
“It’s a very natural place,” Elaine said. “It’s going to be nice for it to be kept that way.”
The Scotts were approached by the land trust more than a decade ago, but at the time they weren’t interested in selling. The two decided they were ready earlier this year, serendipitously around the same time Vashon garnered $4 million for new acquisitions, an effort spearheaded by Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-Vashon), and a strong proponent of conservation.
The deal was made sweeter when King County secured an $80,000 salmon recovery grant from the Green Duwamish Watershed. The grant will fund conservation work at the property, something Dean noted usually doesn’t happen so soon after an acquisition.
“Acquisition and restoration, we got money for both at the same time,” said Greg Rabourn, Vashon’s basin steward who will lead the project for King County. “In this case, we can jump right now on it.”
As soon as next year, crews will begin pulling invasive plants around the creek, planting native species and carefully placing logs that will create pools and protected areas for salmon.
Rabourn noted that small estuaries such as the one at Judd Creek, places where saltwater and freshwater meet to create a unique habitat, have disappeared all over Puget Sound. The so-called pocket estuaries are rich with wildlife and also provide important feeding ground for juvenile Chinook salmon as they make their way to the ocean.
The purchase also adds 10 acres to the land trust’s Paradise Valley Preserve, where in partnership with King County the nonprofit is working to restore Vashon’s largest watershed and improve the area’s chum and coho salmon runs.
Eventually the Scotts’ home will be torn down and the septic system, which sends nitrogen into the creek, removed. Jim noted he was surprised the land trust would opt to one day remove their house, but said he understood the reason why, especially when he considered the salmon runs he saw there decades ago.
“He has some good stories to tell about how it used to be,” said Rabourn. “It’s a real motivation for us to try to get that back.”