Elger Bay Estuary, with 38 acres of land donated by a longtime Seattle and Camano Island family, is allowing the Whidbey Camano Land Trust to preserve habitat for salmon, birds and other wildlife. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Elger Bay Estuary, with 38 acres of land donated by a longtime Seattle and Camano Island family, is allowing the Whidbey Camano Land Trust to preserve habitat for salmon, birds and other wildlife. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Estuary preserved: Family donates 38 acres on Camano Island

The land where Fran Burnside made childhood memories will be protected habitat for salmon and birds.

CAMANO ISLAND — When the tide went out, Fran Burnside could wade far into Elger Bay.

As a child in the 1940s visiting family property on the island, she would walk until the water neared her waist.

Her family dug for clams and set crab pots. She saw eagles and egrets and other wildlife.

Burnside’s grandparents, Frances and Arthur Gough, began buying land on Camano Island in the late 1930s. They eventually owned 72 acres.

Now, the Whidbey Camano Land Trust owns 38 acres of the family’s original property. Burnside and her relatives donated it July 3 on behalf of the Gough/Richmond family. The idea of donating the land started decades ago with Burnside’s father.

The acreage includes wetlands and undiked estuary, said Ryan Elting, conservation director for the land trust.

“Elger Bay is important for salmon. The wetland and estuary there are great birding habitat,” he said. “And it’s a beautiful place.”

The property, on the west side of Camano Island and not far from the state parks or Elger Bay Grocery, is not yet open to the public. The land trust plans to add a small gravel parking lot and wildlife viewing area, hopefully opening by summer 2020, Elting said.

“If there’s an opportunity, we would like to expand the preserve, expand the protections on the estuary,” he said. “That could determine where we put the access point.”

Burnside hopes “that people can enjoy it and that it remains a home for wildlife,” she said. “We’ve always had eagles on the property. There’s always been at least one eagle nest every year when I was growing up.”

Burnside now lives in Arizona. She grew up in Seattle. She comes from a family of Washington pioneers, she said. Her grandmother was born in Washington the year it became a state.

Her grandparents left their Camano Island property to Burnside’s uncle, mother and father. That generation passed it on to Burnside, her brother, her daughter and her niece and nephew.

“It’s gone through three generations,” she said.

There was an old cabin that has since been demolished. Around 1962, her grandfather paid to have a 1920s house barged from Seattle to Camano Island, giving the growing family more space to stay during visits. The house had been in the way of I-5 construction. It was cheaper to barge it and set it on a new foundation than to build a new cabin on the property, Burnside said. That house and other portions of the property have been sold.

Burnside and her brother formed a company and developed another section of the land in the 1990s. They wanted to build homes that mingled well with the island’s woods and beaches.

The donated estuary area remains untouched.

“The property was always very special to all of us in the family, my niece, nephew and daughter included, because they spent time up there with my father like we did when we were kids,” Burnside said.

“It was just ideal for kids when you were growing up to have someplace where you could just go. We’d do our chores in the morning, and my grandmother would say you can go ahead. She had a triangle she’d ring when it was time to come back for lunch. And we’d just go.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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