As a group gathered last week to celebrate a flurry of recent conservation purchases on Vashon, State Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-Maury Island) announced that she has secured another $2 million for environmental preservation on the island.
The state funding will allow King County and Vashon’s land trust to continue purchasing ecologically important forestland and shoreline on Vashon at a quick rate, a project that began two years ago with Nelson’s first allocation of $4 million in state funding.
Using that money, as well as an additional $1 million from King County, the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust and the county have worked together to purchase 142 acres on Vashon over the past two years, expanding eight of the island’s nature preserves and creating one new one.
Land trust Executive Director Tom Dean said he is glad to be able to continue the momentum.
“It’s really exciting to be able to pay this forward, especially with the good work King County is doing leveraging those funds,” he said. “We’ve got a really nice rolling program going here.”
At the press conference overlooking Raab’s Lagoon on Friday, Nelson, the Senate minority leader who has been in Olympia wrapping up budget negotiations, noted that the additional $2 million was formally approved just the day before. The event was attended by state and county officials and current and former land trust board members, as well as other islanders.
“Knowing our local land trust, he (Dean) has already got properties lined up,” Nelson said. “It’s not going to take him long to spend the money, and that’s what I want him to do, because our islands are important to the planet.”
Indeed, Dean said the land trust and county are already planning their next purchases, keeping an eye toward expanding protected forests, preserving local streams and shorelines and creating new trails.
“We’re already having conversations with landowners who are excited about selling us their property,” he said. “This round I suspect will go rather quickly.”
The last round was announced in July of 2013, when Nelson secured $4 million in the state’s biennial budget for conservation on Vashon as well as $2 million to help fund the construction of Vashon Allied Arts’ new performing arts center.
The land trust began spending quickly, buying 10 acres at the mouth of Judd Creek for $725,000. The purchase protected one of Vashon’s only estuaries and added a vital piece to the 100-acre Paradise Valley Preserve.
“It was easily one of the most important ecological purchases the land trust has made in 25 years,” Dean said at last week’s press conference.
The nonprofit bought several more parcels totaling 11 acres along Judd Creek, where conservation projects have already begun along the salmon-bearing stream. Plans are also in the works to open a new hiking trail in that area this fall.
Using the remaining state funds, as well as $1 million King County contributed from its park levy and the Conservation Futures Tax, a patchwork of additional parcels were secured, from the Whispering Firs Bog on Vashon’s north end to Neill Point on the southernmost tip of the island.
A half-acre was added at Whispering Firs, which allowed for an old septic system threatening the bog to be removed. And eight acres were added to the preserve at Shinglemill Creek, one of the few salmon-bearing streams on Vashon. A dilapidated house was torn down there, also stopping greywater that was draining into the creek.
Three parcels totaling 28 acres were added to Island Center Forest, including land considered good habitat for flying squirrels and one 20-acre piece that has been used by hikers and informally called the forest’s “missing tooth.”
At Dockton Forest, another popular spot for hiking, 70 acres of forestland sandwiched between Dockton Forest and the former Glacier site were purchased by the county.
More than 1,400 feet of island shoreline were also protected, and a new preserve was created when 7 acres in the Big Beach area along outer Quartermaster Harbor were purchased. About 400 feet of bulkhead will be removed there.
Nine acres were preserved on the southern tip of Maury, where old structures and creosote bulkheads will also be removed.
Dean said that while scattered across the island, the purchases were all intentional.
“It was a parcel here and a parcel there, but we stitched it all together into something larger and more meaningful preserve-wise,” he said.
Half an acre was also purchased at Raab’s Lagoon, where a small shoreline restoration project provided the backdrop for Friday’s press conference. At the event, King County Councilmember Joe McDermott said he believes conservation on Vashon affects the entire region. For instance, salmon that spawn on the island, he said, provide food for endangered orcas.
He added that successful preservation on Vashon also sets an example for other parts of the region.
“It helps us build the case to do the same thing in east King County as well,” he said.
McDermott, as well as Dean and King County Executive Dow Constantine praised Nelson for securing the additional $2 million in conservation funds during a tough budget year.
“We’ve had really strong leadership for conservation on the island, and we’ve been lucky,” Dean said in an interview. “If she was not the ranking Democrat, we wouldn’t have a prayer of getting this.”
For her part, Nelson recalled her and others’ fight to save the former Glacier mining site, which is now owned by King County. Proving that site was ecologically important, she said, also showed how critical Vashon’s shorelines are for all of Puget Sound.
“It’s not just there. As far as our uplands, madrona forests, our aquifers, they say a lot about an ecological system that’s important to the entire state and to King County,” she said.
King County and the land trust now have two years to spend the additional $2 million. Dean said he expects new purchases will be announced soon and for a new preserve to be started, though he is not yet able to say where.
While Nelson has been praised for securing the funds, McDermott noted that several levels of government as well as the land trust had to work together for the purchases to happen.
“In this case, it is really true that it is state led. The county was able to follow, as was the land trust here on the island. Island resources play a critical role in this as well, making sure it all comes together.”
Juli Goetz Morser contributed to this article.