Opinion

For decades, land trust has saved public spaces

By Amy Huggins

For The Beachcomber

This time of economic uncertainty urges me to reconsider what I value most, what nurtures me, my family and my community. The answer for me is rural, wild spaces and nature. And the tool is conservation.

In her song, “Big Yellow Taxi,” Joni Mitchell laments, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

In June 2006, I returned to my hometown of Chillicothe, Ill., for a family wedding next door to the home I grew up in. The open spaces where I had played “kick the can” were now divided, built up and fenced in. This experience echoes the story of nearly every friend of mine: The wild places they fondly remember from their childhood days are gone.

Clearly, just hoping that development won’t occur is not effective. Active conservation is, which is why I donate my time and money to the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust.

 We’re bombarded by bad financial and unemployment news daily, an impact that is playing out internationally, domestically and on Vashon. Friends have been laid off and businesses have closed. Yet, while the personal stories of disappearing wealth and savings are too common, the fundamental value, if not market value, of land persists.

This fundamental land value takes many forms. It’s scenic — seeing the snow-clad Olympic mountains bathed in early morning light. It’s recreational — hiking the trail around Fisher Pond while listening to the spring songs of chickadees and winter wrens. It’s biological — enjoying the clean water that comes out of my faucet in my kitchen and that provides a healthy Judd Creek for migrating salmon. Finally, the value of land can be found in its agricultural productivity; land provides us our fresh eggs, vegetables and fruits, cheeses and herbs. All of these qualities provide lasting value for me, my family and our community.

What nurtures me is getting outside — to join Abel Eckhardt, the land trust’s land steward, for a work party at Paradise Valley planting trees, or going bird-watching with my husband Alan at Mukai Pond, or walking the beach and smelling the salty air at Neill Point, a new shoreline preserve. All of these experiences contribute deeply to my sense of place, of appreciating the rural character of my home Island. “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone?”

The disaster preparedness folks have done a fine job of getting us ready for an earthquake or windstorm, but the economic meltdown is a disaster of another kind. Seed companies report that sales are skyrocketing. The concept of planting a victory garden is cycling around again. Local classes on raising chickens have been packed. Feeding yourself is, of course, impossible without land. When you take care of the land, the land takes care of you.

The Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust, founded 20 years ago with a vision of conserving 1,000 acres, is inching toward 1,200 acres. Just like the rest of us, staff have had to reduce spending and closely monitor the land trust’s finances. But the organization is still moving forward on habitat conservation, trail-building and the beginnings of a plan to preserve farmland and promote local food production.

In a world where we can no longer trust the banking system to steward the global economy, the land trust has provided a tiny “land bank” on Vashon and Maury. This simple yet profound vision of a group of Islanders 20 years ago has been realized through the leveraging of Island contributions into millions of dollars worth of land, conserved and stewarded forever.

— Amy Huggins is president of the Vashon-Maury Island Land Trust.

Looking back

The land trust is holding its annual meeting and a 20-year retrospective, highlighted by stories from the founding board members, from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 25, at the Heritage Museum on Bank Road. All are welcome. For more information, contact the land trust at 463-2644 or info@vashonlandtrust.org.

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