CAMANO ISLAND — Efforts to preserve forest and tidelands and to expand a county park at Barnum Point have been put on a tight timeline this summer as one of the properties in question moves through bankruptcy proceedings.
The Whidbey Camano Land Trust, a nonprofit focused on protecting and restoring natural places in Island County, expects that the 37-acre property — 17 acres of forest and 20 acres of tidelands — could be sold to a private buyer this fall. The organization has set a September deadline to raise $750,000. They’ve raised $323,000 so far.
Buying the property would be part of an ongoing $5.5 million project by the land trust and Island County to add to an existing 27-acre county park on the east side of Camano Island. The goal is for the land trust to purchase surrounding properties through grants and donations, then sell them to the county so they can be rolled into a 129-acre recreation area. There would be 92 acres of upland habitat, 37 acres of tidelands, more than a mile of shoreline, two beach access points and more than 2.5 miles of trails, said Ryan Elting, conservation director with the land trust.
“This is such an amazing opportunity,” he said “There are no other opportunities that we are aware of to protect such a large land form that’s basically been untouched.”
Barnum Point juts out into Port Susan Bay at the entrance to Triangle Cove, directly across from where the Stillaguamish River spills into the bay.
The area provides habitat for bald eagles, shorebirds and wintering waterfowl. The bluff and shoreline also contribute to the Triangle Bay habitat for juvenile salmon coming from the Stilly.
“Ecologically, it’s an unbelievable and rare opportunity,” said Amy McInerney, spokeswoman for the land trust. “And for public access, it’s going to be a gem of Camano Island.”
Island County has owned acreage at Barnum Point since 2012, but it’s been hard to open the land to the public because it’s an oddly “L” shaped piece of property that severs an existing trail network and is bordered by private properties, Elting said.
Last fall, 35 acres to the west of the county land was about to be sold to a private buyer as part of a bankruptcy process. In December, the land trust took out an $850,000 bridge loan to purchase the land before it could become private. The deadline to pay that back is December 2017.
“We sort of went for the most urgent piece at the time that was about to be sold, and now we’re in kind of a similar situation with the piece to the east,” Elting said.
The eastern piece is the one that the organization is fundraising for now. Elting said a sale would need to be closed by September or October.
There are more properties needed to complete the park, but the owners already have said they are willing to wait another year to sell so the land trust and the county can take care of the more pressing purchases.
The Barnum Point project has been in the works since 2010, and the goal is to have more of the park open for access within the next couple of years, assuming the properties can be acquired. There is limited access now off of Sunrise Boulevard, Island County Parks Director Bill Oakes said. A long-term management plan would be drafted with public input, and the county would assume ownership and maintenance of the park.
“The ultimate project will certainly be a crowning park for Camano Island as a recreational facility and for preserving habitat,” he said.
So far, Stanwood High School students have donated $10,000 from national Make A Difference Day prize money and a $385,000 state grant to protect salmon habitat is in the works, according to the land trust. Donors also have pledged to match up to $310,000 in donations dollar-for-dollar.
Donations can be made online at wclt.org or by calling 360-222-3310.
The team working on the Barnum Point project is optimistic they can raise the money for the property, but it’s certainly a big goal and a short timeline, McInerney said.
“It’s just a one-time opportunity,” Elting said. “We’re not going to get another chance at this.”
Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.