How the Lost Valley was found

“Where are we?” someone on the trail ahead of us asked.“I don’t know,” came the answer – from, ominously, one of our guides.

Well, it is called the Lost Valley – even the press was asked to bring along a machete should the going get too rough. But we can report that of the intrepid band of 15 who this past Saturday braved the dense forestland north of Bucklin Hill, west of the Head of the Bay, all emerged unscathed (although city Administrator Lee Walton had to be rescued from a patch of Northwest quicksand, a.k.a. mud).

The junket brought out local public officials, trails advocates and spouses – the Vancils, the Kordonowy/Abbott duo, Matt and Darlene Haney, Andy Maron, the Esterbergs, other hardy folk – to explore what is likely to be the city’s next open space purchase. The eight acres under consideration (look dead west next time you drive down Wyatt Way, and the property is in there somewhere amongst the trees) would link 30 acres of city-owned land with the outside world, creating a hiking-trail loop more than two miles long and possible links with several neighborhoods. The trek was informative, although guide Dave Shorett missed an early trail marker and led the group straight down to the valley floor, missing what was said to be a dramatic spur high atop the sylvan slope.

Curiously, a la Stanley and Livingstone, the party picked up numbers along the way. Half an hour into the trek, Dave Ullin surprised all by ambling out of the underbrush like a mountain man; a few minutes later, Tom Swolgaard and Connie Waddington turned up, having set out early and now apparently going in circles.

But it was a rare treat to discover gorgeous, unfamiliar ground so close to home; we were amazed, and we dare say our fellow travellers were likewise. Just how the Lost Valley was found, that is perhaps worth recounting.

Hard to recall, but not too many years ago there was no city open space program, and the preservation of local greenways was left primarily to nonprofit groups.

That began to change during the latter part of Dwight Sutton’s mayoral administration, when a grand vision began to take shape at the Head of the Bay. In January 2000, the city purchased the so-called Lumpkin property, 12 acres of pristine uplands and tide flat – brilliant wildlife habitat, all – at the head of Eagle Harbor. Noting that the city maintained wells for the Winslow water system nearby, then-administrator Lynn Nordby argued that the city should try to preserve the entire Head of the Bay watershed, purchasing any open parcels that came available.

As if by providence, some did. After Lumpkin came three lots totalling 10 acres that were slated for imminent development; two more purchases on the south side of the valley soon followed. Before Sutton left office, the city owned 30 contiguous acres around a secluded stream just waiting for salmon restoration. Funding came from wherever the administration could find it; protection of the city wells justified a dip into the water utility, while the council came through with other monies.

The deals made news, illustrating what might be accomplished by a formal open space program. A year later, island voters enthusiastically embraced the $8 million open space bond...and here we are. Ironically, nobody really understood what the city already had until recently, when Open Space Commission members explored what has come to be known as the Lost Valley while scouting out trail opportunities nearby. Now, those who hike the unspoilt valley find it stunning, and the stream that graces its floor will be protected in perpetuity.

It’s fine country, and we hope the council will agree to add another eight acres to it. We also hope the foresight of the last administration gets some recognition as well. But for their efforts – several years before there was any real open space money to spend – the Lost Valley might indeed have been lost

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