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Several preserves grow with a flurry of land purchases
By NATALIE MARTIN
Vashon’s land trust and King County recently announced a series of purchases that officials say expanded existing nature preserves and will allow aging structures that threaten local habitat to be removed.
Last month the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust closed on one purchase by the Whispering Firs Bog and two at its Shinglemill Creek preserve. King County, on the other hand, has focused its recent efforts on the south end of Vashon and recently wrapped up a series of shoreline acquisitions at Piner Point and Northilla.
The land trust’s $387,000 in purchases were funded by a $4 million state budget allocation secured by state Sen. Sharon Nelson last year for open space preservation on Vashon. Land Trust Director Tom Dean said the agency, working with the county and state, has only two years to spend the funds. He said they have been moving quickly to prioritize land purchases and negotiate with property owners.
“Two years may seem like a long time, but it’s not that long for this type of work. We’re busy,” Dean said while walking one of the recent purchases, a 5-acre wooded parcel adjacent to the Shinglemill Creek preserve.
The land trust purchased the property from islanders James and Edna Dam, who live on an adjacent parcel. The $145,000 acquisition is significant, Dean said, because it protects all of Baldwin Creek, a small stream that is near Shinglemill and also flows into Fern Cove. Small cutthroat trout have been spotted in the creek.
Edna Dam said she and her husband were approached by the land trust and decided quickly to sell the piece of property, as they had already considered gifting it to the nonprofit in their will. And in what Dean called “paying it forward,” the Dams plan to donate a large portion of the proceeds of the sale back to the land trust and to Vashon Allied Arts.
“We feel quite good about the whole thing,” Dam said.
The land trust closed last week on another 2.5-acre property by Shinglemill, one with a dilapidated cabin perched above the creek. The home was foreclosed on earlier this year and the land trust purchased it from Freddie Mac. The house will be torn down, Dean said, as it is within the stream buffer. It likely couldn’t be permitted today, he said, and has a graywater system and dysfunctional septic system that feed into the creek.
A house in disrepair will also be torn out at the land trust’s third purchase, a half-acre parcel adjacent to the Whispering Firs Bog.
Originally the land trust hoped to secure property on another side of the bog, but a local bog expert, Tom DeVries, advised that it instead work to rid the bog’s drainage basin of some old septic systems. The rare bog, Dean said, is extremely sensitive to outside influences such as nitrogen from septic systems.
“He said this is a much more dangerous situation over here,” Dean said.
The property, which was on the market for some time and didn’t sell, was purchased for $110,000. The house and its septic system will be torn out.
The Dams’ $50,000 donation to the land trust will likely be used to tear down the two houses, Dean said, as the state funds cannot be used for that type of work.
At the south end of Vashon, King County recently purchased nine separate parcels totaling 5.9 acres at the Piner Point preserve and the adjacent Northilla Natural Area.
Greg Rabourn, Vashon’s basin steward for King County, said most of the parcels are undeveloped properties and make up about 400 feet of marine shoreline in an important area for fish spawning. There is now 2,500 feet of protected shoreline at Piner Point and Northilla.
“Such important ecological properties are always very valuable to get into a place where they’ll be protected forever,” Rabourn said.
One property does have a bulkhead that will be removed, Rabourn added, and debris that will be cleaned up by King County.
The purchases, totaling a little over $400,000, were mostly funded by the Conservation Futures Tax and the King County parks levy.