Tom Stewart, the wealthy businessman and staunch Republican who died in 2010, is arguably a legend on Vashon. While living on the island, Stewart both wowed islanders with his massive estate and generous giving and rubbed some wrong with his opulent lifestyle and run-ins with the law. Just as Stewart and his 500-acre estate — which includes landscaped gardens, a putting green, riding arena, airstrip and helipad — seemed too grand for Vashon, thoughts of a nonprofit now purchasing it at first glance seem too far-fetched to be realistic.
A group headed by land trust director Tom Dean has ambitious ideas for the property, an ecologically important site and the last property of that size on Vashon that could be purchased for protection. Members are talking of not only farming the place, but doing conservation projects at the creek there, perhaps establishing rentals and a restaurant, providing education and jobs, composting and maybe even adding worker housing in the mix. We would likely discredit their thoughts as pipe dreams if not for those who are involved in the brainstorming.
Dean is a well-respected conservationist who has headed significant projects before and helped bring about the county’s purchase of the former Glacier property. Merrilee Runyan is another solid community activist who, as president of the Vashon Islander Growers Association, has her finger on the pulse of Vashon farming. Other well-respected names are involved, suggesting this is a group of people that wouldn’t waste their valuable time mulling over a project that had no chance of taking off.
What’s more, government and nonprofit agencies with the resources to help make such a large project happen are already sitting with them at the drawing board. Christie True, the director of the county Department of Natural Resources and Parks who happens to live on Vashon, says purchasing Misty Isle isn’t a “crazy idea.” In fact, she said, it’s just the kind of project the county likes to see happen.
We’re still skeptical, and there are still many unanswered questions. Who would manage such a site, and what farmers would eventually set up shop there? Would Stewart’s family and company really sell, and for how much? Is this truly a cause the Vashon community would support, and could millions be raised for it?
Those involved readily admit they don’t have all the answers yet, and maybe when they get them they’ll find they don’t have a practical path. Until then, we’ll listen to this group and keep an open mind. The whole island would benefit from seeing this massive property protected, and after all, we, too, would rather see yurts there than mansions.