Land Trust is worth its weight in green

It’s tough to quantify the absence of change.

It’s a concept that comes into clear relief over time, and only then by contrast with whatever happens around it. The absence of change takes patience to observe, and a certain vision to foster.

Credit the Bainbridge Island Land Trust for promoting the value that islanders seem to value above all others – year-in, year-out consistency in the natural landscape around us – so effectively and for so many years. Indeed, long before there was a public open space bond and a city commission to broker land purchases with those funds, BILT was at work behind the scenes with an array of strategies to preserve forested lands, farms and shorelines.

The organization celebrates its 15th anniversary this weekend, with its annual meeting, potluck dinner and silent auction, 6-9 p.m. Jan. 31 in the Bainbridge Commons. The public is invited; bring a favorite dish and fete the successes of a group that now counts a membership of 450.

We’ve been privileged to write about the organization many times over the years. Readers will recall that the recent public purchase agreement for the stunning 64-acre Close property, which links Gazzam Lake preserve with the banks of Port Orchard Narrows, was brokered by the trust in year-long negotiations; the group now has a $1.25 million fund drive under way to match city funding and complete the deal. The group is also augmenting the efforts of the Trust for Public Land in raising money for Pritchard Park at Bill Point. In all cases, the group has worked under a strict ethos of

“willing buyer, willing seller,” to protect the interests of land owners even while promoting public benefit.

Another highly effective strategy has been the use of conservation easements, by which development rights are extinguished on parcels that remain in private hands, in exchange for tax breaks for the landowner. Look at the BILT map, and you can find 37 such easements protecting 644 acres around the island. The most visible is probably the Ryherd/ Parcheski property in the southwest quadrant of Day Road and the highway, magnificent rolling fields that make you want to take up the brush and easel. Another is the 10 acres of forest and 600 feet of beachfront on Murden Cove preserved in December 2000. As former BILT board president Steph Miller once told us, “Anything that enhances open space on the island, we’re for. We don’t care who owns it.”

Saturday marks a chance to honor a fine organization, but more so, to celebrate some community achievements that tend to go unheralded. Too often, new homes are built somewhere, and angry neighbors turn out to decry the subversion of the Comprehensive Plan. But we think this community needs to focus more on the many, many successes in land preservation. Thank the BILT organization for its 15 years of vision and achievement, and for setting a positive tone.

All around you are corners of green that have been preserved without regulation, appeals, lawsuits or acrimony, and largely without fanfare. They’re starting to add up.

Thanks to the Bainbridge Island Land Trust, the things that don’t change, you’ll come to notice.

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