Whidbey land trust buys Indian Point beachfront

CLINTON — David Close shows a 1958 photo of his younger sister, as a toddler, sitting in a tiny bathtub on a beach near the south end of Whidbey Island.

Indian Point can be seen in the background.

“That’s 50 years ago and it looks the same,” said Close, 65, who still lives near that same beach.

Now, he said, perhaps one of his descendants can pose for a similar photo 50 years from now and it will still look the same, thanks to the Whidbey Camano Land Trust’s purchase of a large chunk of the beach and uplands.

The trust, a non-profit preservation group, recently cobbled together nearly $1.2 million to buy 64 acres at Indian Point, at the southwestern edge of the island, to keep the property from being developed.

The land features 2,100 feet of wild beach with sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains, Admiralty Inlet, Puget Sound, Mount Rainier and even the tops of the skyscrapers in downtown Seattle.

The purchase included 28 forested acres on top of the bluff and 36 acres of tidelands.

The property owner, a woman in her 80s who asked to remain anonymous, had been approached by a developer who wanted to build four homes on top of the 200-foot-high bluff, said Patricia Powell, executive director for the land trust.

While not a large development, the tree clearing and roads required for the homes would have torn out part of a century-old forest of large maples, cedars, firs and other trees. Bald eagles, osprey, Peregrine falcons and songbirds make their nests there.

It also would have increased the amount of water running down the bluffs, speeding up their erosion and throwing the beach’s ecosystem out of whack, Powell said.

The wide, flat tidelands just off the beach are filled with eelgrass and provide a prime feeding-and-growing ground for juvenile salmon, she said.

The beach has long been used as a stop-off point for boaters, especially anglers, according to Close, whose family has owned property in the area since the ’50s.

The tideflats are created by slow, gradual erosion of the bluffs — about 5 inches a year.

“It’s become increasingly rare to find this much beach with a pristine forest and eroding bluff above it that hasn’t been touched,” Powell said.

The seller’s family once had a small house at the very north end of the beach property, but it burned down years ago. The family never rebuilt the house and never built on the uplands, Close said. The uplands were logged about 100 years ago but never were touched since, he said.

The forest, reached only through private property nearby, will be closed except for occasional guided tours, Powell said.

The beach is reached by crossing private tidelands from Dave Mackie County Park in Maxwelton, just to the north. Several homes line the beach between the park and the purchased property. The homeowners could legally prohibit access to the beach if they wanted to, but don’t.

“All kinds of people walk this beach,” Close said.

If the developer had purchased the tidelands, they could have closed off access to the beach, Powell said. The land trust will leave it open to the public.

Greg and Ann Lyle, who live to the east of the seller’s upland property, donated $310,000 to the Whidbey Camano Land Trust to start the preservation process. The land trust, working with the state Department of Ecology, also obtained a $618,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That left $232,000 to raise to meet the total price of $1.16 million. Close and others helped get the word out to draw individual donations and $172,000 was rounded up.

The seller had set a deadline of Sept. 25 to complete the sale. Island County pitched in $60,000 the day before to seal the deal, Powell said.

“I’m just thrilled,” Close said. “This is a very special place and to know it’s going to be there forever is just terrific.”

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; sheets@heraldnet.com.

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