CAMANO ISLAND — The forest was 30 minutes from becoming lots for shoreline homes in 2015, above the striking bluffs at Barnum Point.
With no time to spare, the Whidbey Camano Land Trust swooped in with an emergency loan to secure the 35-acre property.
Now, that area is part of a 167-acre Island County park, which opened to the public in late August.
The park’s mile of beach access is a win for Camano Island, where 83 percent of the waterfront is privately owned.
There are also 2.5 miles of groomed trails through forest and meadows in the park.
The trust has worked with the county to acquire portions of the park since 2012. Most of the area was owned by the Barnum family, said Ryan Elting, conservation director at the trust.
They started with 27 acres.
“It was an oddly shaped, awkward parcel,” Elting said.
While technically open to the public, the land didn’t really function as a park. Existing trails wandered onto neighboring properties.
After repaying the emergency loan that got them the 35 acres in 2015, Elting said they went to work on the next piece of land.
In 2016, the trust raised more than $750,000 in two months with over 600 private donations and many grants. That allowed them to purchase 37 acres on the east side of what is now the park.
The final pieces came together in 2018, when two Barnum siblings sold land to the county. In total, the park cost about $9 million.
Over the past few months, the county has been working to turn the 167 acres into a park. They cleared trails, built a parking lot and posted signs.
Six houses sat on the land. The trust worked with Nickel Bros to barge one home off the eastern shoreline to Vancouver Island. Bellingham company ReUse Works recycled 95 percent of the other houses, keeping hundreds of tons of materials out of landfills.
Today, there’s hardly a trace of the houses.
“It really feels like the wild Pacific Northwest coastline,” Elting said.
Julia-Grace Sanders: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.