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In Our View / Giving back


Celebrating a timeless gift

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In an era of budget austerity, volunteerism and private philanthropy mortar the cracks. Talent and time dedicated to serving others is manifested virtue, breathing life into communities from Edmonds to Camano Island.
For many Snohomish County residents, service takes the form of volunteering, helping a low-income family file their federal income taxes or mentoring an at-risk teen. The well-to-do have more options, from underwriting scholarships to working with the Greater Everett Community Foundation to support projects in the arts, at the Everett Public Library, or with the Sky Valley food bank. And some gifts, the rarest sort, conserve wild lands, a permanent legacy to benefit recreation and the environment for decades to come.
As The Herald's Gale Fiege reported Tuesday, Joe and Cathy Holton and their children donated a 30-acre conservation easement to the Whidbey Camano Land Trust. The Holton property, which sits next to Cama Beach State Park on the west side of Camano Island, includes a 10-acre wetland, a peat bog and an upland forest with trees that date to the 1760s.
The Land Trust's Elizabeth Guss told Fiege, "Their contribution is a beautiful illustration of a family thinking ahead into the future and seeing the big picture. It's a way to marry private property rights with the common good."
An easement is the most innovative conservation tool available to property owners who want to permanently protect wildlife and other natural features. An easement is a legal contract between a land owner and either a public land trust or a government entity. The donor still holds title and can will it to his or her heirs. The land trust stewards the property, ensuring that agreed upon uses are preserved.
There is a twofold upside to the Holton gift: They likely qualify for a federal tax deduction given the property's conservation value and development potential, and; they know that the easement is a permanent feature of the title. As Joe Holton said, "We didn't want to see a high-density residential development there. We wanted to leave a legacy into the future, for our family and for the community."
Neighboring Cama Beach State Park has its own rich history. The 464-acre property is a new addition to the park system, dedicated in 2008. Originally conceived as an interpretive park, Cama was once the site of a tribal village and home to a now-defunct resort listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Generosity, however expressed, is a blessing. It's especially true with gifts that are everlasting, the gift of nature.

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