Group nears goal to save island in San Juans

  • Fri Apr 13th, 2012 5:41pm
  • Life

By Sharon Wootton

A $6.4 million calculated gamble in December by San Juan Preservation Trust has, at least temporarily, preserved uninhabited Vendovi Island in the San Juans.

A dozen volunteers from Washington Trails Association have already spent eight work days on the 217-acre island, seven miles north of Anacortes across from Samish Bay.

According to trust’s website,, the acquisition was the most significant conservation effort in its history.

An anonymous donor’s $3 million gift and a $3.4 million bridge loan made it possible to purchase the island at auction. The price was half of its appraised value.

Another anonymous donor has given a $1 million challenge grant that will match other donations. The trust must raise $350,000 by the next grant deadline, before Oct. 1, and another $400,000 before Oct. 1, 2013.

The spectacular island’s environmental and esthetic value made it worth the risk. Auction company J.P. King was advertising it as a “potential retreat for corporate or personal ventures.”

“It’s a crown jewel,” said SJPT board of trustees Keith Gerrard. “I’m confident that we’ll end up owning it (permanently). It’s a beautiful island. It’s great to preserve something like that forever and ever.”

Board member and botanist Samantha Martin Sprenger said that one reason that the island is flush with wildflowers is the lack of deer.

“There’s a huge diversity of wildflowers compared to other islands in the San Juans,” she said.

According to University of Washington Herbarium experts, the wildflowers rival any other Western wildflower sites in terms of diversity.

SJPT’s website offered other reasons for preserving Vendovi: an archaeological survey unearthed middens and other artifacts that showed that native cultures camped here to fish and collect shellfish; and that the island is home to a colony of nesting pigeon guillemots.

Alyssa Kreider, Washington Trail Association, volunteer coordinator, said the Vendovi project was a great fit for the organization’s volunteer vacation program.

“We provide the tools, the kitchen set-up and the food,” she said. Volunteers worked to turn paths into trails that can be used by the public.

Volunteers also created a 300-foot route to take out a steep elevation gain on one trail.

The trust will balance preservation and public access to six beaches, 13,000 feet of shoreline, a protected harbor, topography from sea level to 340 feet and up to 3 miles of trails.

Vendovi, which was owned by one family for generations, is open to the public May 1.

One and only: The 134-mile Grand Tour Scenic Byway in northeast Oregon is part of the only scenic bikeway program in the nation.

The figure-eight loop runs from La Grande and Baker City with Union in the middle of the loop. There are now more than 700 miles of scenic bikeways in the program.

For more information, go to

Down the coast: If you’re headed to the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area on the Oregon coast just south of Yachats, check out the recently released map of three small wilderness areas and the scenic area.

The map is in full color with topographical contours and printed on tear- and water-resistant plastic paper. It was issued by the Siuslaw National Forest.

Columnist Sharon Wootton can be reached at 360-468-3964 or