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MEADOW AND FOREST FOREVER: HILLTOP PRESERVED

Officials from the Bainbridge Island Land Trust and Bainbridge Island parks board — David Harrison, Connie Waddington, Ken Dewitt, Asha Rehnberg   Carol Sperling and Lee Cross — walk the trail on the Hilltop property earlier this week.  - Brian Kelly | Bainbridge Island Review
Officials from the Bainbridge Island Land Trust and Bainbridge Island parks board — David Harrison, Connie Waddington, Ken Dewitt, Asha Rehnberg Carol Sperling and Lee Cross — walk the trail on the Hilltop property earlier this week.
— image credit: Brian Kelly | Bainbridge Island Review

An anonymous donation of $50,000 has left the Bainbridge Island Land Trust with enough money to complete its purchase of the 36-acre Hilltop property, officials with the nonprofit announced this week.

Members of the land trust and its partner in the project, the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park & Recreation District, were jubilant.

“It’s just a deep satisfaction to know that we’ve completed this and that this land can not only be enjoyed today, but by islanders in hundreds of years,” said Carol Sperling, a board member for the land trust.

David Harrison, vice president of the land trust board, said the property was a key acquisition that will now permanently protect a swath of the island that stretches from Battle Point Park to Murden Cove.

“It connects the East and West Grand Forest and creates an island spot that’s been treasured for a long time, that now the public can use,” he said.

“I think it’s fair to say that both the land trust and the parks district are ecstatic,” Harrison said.

With the 36 acres added — which includes a 5-acre upland meadow that is one of the highest spots on the island and boasts impressive views of the Olympics — approximately 540 contiguous acres across the central core of Bainbridge Island will be preserved forever.

A park district trail that connects both pieces of the Grand Forest opened last year as fundraising efforts continued to secure the money needed to finalize the Hilltop purchase.

“This is really the culmination of a lot of effort by a lot of different people over time,” said Parks Commissioner Lee Cross.

She recalled the words of a former director of the land trust: “’You have to drink a thousand cups of tea with property owners in order to make things happen.’

“This is such a huge benefit to the island, Cross added. “It’s just fantastic, especially when you consider how much has been lost, bit by bit, of forested land on the island.”

More than 700 individuals, families, foundations, organizations and agencies participated in the capital campaign for Hilltop, which also received financial support from the Bainbridge parks district, the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program and the C. Keith Birkenfeld Memorial Fund at The Seattle Foundation.

“When the land trust board agreed to purchase Hilltop, we were in uncharted territory,” noted Hilltop campaign co-chair Val Tollefson. “Never before had the Bainbridge Island Land Trust committed to a capital project of this magnitude, but we had no doubt that the many generous and forward-thinking land trust supporters would prove that we made the right decision. And they did.”

Ownership of the property is being transferred to the parks district, and officials said the public will have many ways to enjoy the property. Beyond the east-west trail, the parks district and the Bainbridge Rotary Club helped pay for renovations to the log cabin on the Hilltop property that was owned by Bainbridge icon Prue Trudgian. The cabin will be used as a community meeting space called “Prue’s House.”

“Hikers, bikers, runners, striders, artists, kids and nature lovers -- Hilltop has something for everyone,” said Asha Rehnberg, the former executive director of the land trust who helped the planning and implementation of the Hilltop project.

Intensive uses won’t be allowed on the property, officials noted.

“The one key thing it will never be used for is for organized athletic fields,” said Parks Commissioner Ken DeWitt.

The acquisition also means a permanently protected cross-island habitat for wildlife, as well as safeguarding the headwaters of two critical watersheds.

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