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Whispering Firs Bog preserve could double in size

Whispering Firs Bog harbors an ecosystem that’s considered a statewide priority habitat. - Courtesy photo
Whispering Firs Bog harbors an ecosystem that’s considered a statewide priority habitat.
— image credit: Courtesy photo

A nature preserve sheltering a rare sphagnum bog — considered one of the region’s imperiled ecosystems — could double in size if local advocates are successful in garnering state funds to help in the acquisition.

The Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust and the Vashon Park District are applying for a state grant that would enable them to purchase nearly 10 acres off of Vermontville Road S.W., bringing the size of Whispering Firs Bog to nearly 19 acres.

The purchase, if successful, would mark a significant milestone for the land trust. Whispering Firs Bog — a 7,000-year-old ecosystem that supports stunted firs and hemlocks as well as a suite of wetland-dependent plants — was the land trust’s first acquisition. In fact, when Emma Amiad, the land trust’s founder, wrote up the purchase-and-sale agreement for its purchase 20 years ago, she assigned it to a “nonprofit yet to be named,” said Tom Dean, the land trust’s director.

“This was the acquisition that founded the land trust,” he said.

Last week, the park district board approved the park district’s effort to work with the land trust to secure a state grant to help with a potential purchase. If those funds don’t come through, however, Dean said his organization will look for another way to bring the deal to fruition.

“I don’t know how we’ll find the funding, but we have to,” he said. “Failure’s not an option here.”

In many ways, the purchase has been a long time in the making. Amiad recalls talking to the owner, Diane Altwein, more than 20 years ago, when Amiad first started working to protect the bog. Charles Kohler, who owned the property with the bog, agreed to sell; Altwein, whose property borders the bog, was very supportive of the land trust and open to the sale but wanted to wait, Amiad recalled.

Now, the land trust is working with her estate, which is also open to a sale, Dean said.

“This is a slow process,” Amiad said. “That’s what’s so remarkable. They’re picking up properties that we earmarked 20 years ago. It’s just neat. I love it. I love that this is finally happening.”

Dean said the bog is a jewel in the region. Only 3 percent of the county’s remaining wetlands are sphagnum bogs, an ecosystem that’s been listed as a statewide priority habitat. Whispering Firs Bog supports a population of red-legged frogs, considered an imperiled species, neotropical migrating songbirds, Labrador tea and bog laurel.

A sphagnum bog — considered a true bog, in that it has no inlet or outlet for water — is formed in wet depressions and has a thick sphagnum mat and deep peat layers permeated by stagnant, acidic water. Core samplings by students at Vashon High School indicate that Whispering Firs’ mat is 20 feet deep.

Because of the acidic water, the trees growing in the bog are stunted and exotic looking, said Dean. It’s a beautiful and magical place, he said — one few have seen because of the bog’s fragile nature; the preserve is not open to the public except during special land trust-sponsored tours.

If the organization is successful in purchasing the bordering property, however, it will likely begin to provide limited public access — perhaps by way of a viewing platform near the bog.

“If we could provide a viewing platform where people could see it anytime they wanted to, I think people would love that,” Dean said. “Most people have no idea what’s back there; they have no clue.”

Vashon High School science teacher Tom DeVries will lead two tours of Whispering Firs Bog on Saturday, May 22. The tours begin at 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. and cost $5 per family for Land Trust members or $25 per family for non-members (includes a year’s membership to the Land Trust). For information or to reserve a spot, contact Beth Border at 463-2644 or beth@vashonlandtrust.org.

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