The latest property acquired by the Bainbridge Island Land Trust as part of their ongoing “Stand for the Land” campaign is the Springbrook Creek Preserve, a 23-acre wooded property that contains what officials have called “one of the island’s finest fish habitats.”
The acquisition was unveiled Dec. 12., thus adding the Springbrook Creek Preserve to the ranks of previously announced properties obtained via the campaign: the 14-acre Jablonko Preserve, adjacent to the Gazzam Lake Nature Preserve; the 15-acre Cougar Creek Preserve, located between Blakely Avenue and Old Mill Road; and the 13-acre Miller-Kirkman Preserve in Little Manzanita Bay.
Previously the site of a proposed six-home construction project, the parcel was then purchased by a conservation-minded islander — who land trust officials are not identifying, per the donor’s request — who subsequently began refurbishment efforts before the property was ultimately acquired by the nonprofit trust.
Eventually, officials said the Springbrook Creek Preserve will be open for recreational use.
It was, according to the land trust, one of only 11 parcels on the island remaining either undeveloped or unprotected that are larger than 20 acres.
“This is a huge acquisition, not just for the land trust but I think for the community too,” said Cullen Brady, Stand for the Land campaign co-chair. “The land trust doesn’t buy land just because a parcel becomes available. We’re not just trying to prevent development from happening, we’re trying to protect these lands.”
And the Springbrook Creek Preserve is apparently especially worth protecting.
The area was reportedly selected after completing a multi-year stream assessment, assisted by local landowners and Wild Fish Conservancy.
According to the land trust, the property contains “a resplendent landscape of mixed conifer uplands and stream-side alder forests. Flowering wild ginger, foamflower, and abundant salmonberry grace the banks of Springbrook Creek,” the aforementioned fish oasis.
“The forests and wetlands play a key role in providing cool, clear, and consistently flowing water in the creek for local wildlife including birds, fish, mammals, and amphibians,” land trust officials reported.
“The multi-year Springbrook Creek Watershed Assessment identified future restoration opportunities, such as removing fish passage barriers and enhancing riparian habitats, evaluated the possibility of returning the stream to its historical path, and protecting intact fish habitat through acquisition or conservation easements within the watershed.”
The site is reportedly also crucial for the unimpeded wildlife migration and refuge, and the stream currently hosts a number of different fish species, according to the land trust, including cutthroat trout, coho and chum salmon, sculpin and Western brook lamprey.
“Coho and cutthroat have been documented within the Springbrook Creek reach downstream,” according to the acquisition announcement, “and there is excellent potential for fish-rearing habitat.”
Planned removal of an undersized culvert on the western boundary of the preserve will restore fish access to a quarter mile of that excellent fish-rearing habitat within the site, and improve “system resilience to intensifying winter rainfall events,” officials said.
Additionally, nearly every shrub within the preserve reportedly bears fruits and/or seeds that are valuable food sources for local wildlife, including the seeds of the site’s dominant trees, which feed multiple species of birds, squirrels, small rodents and rabbits, too.
The Springbrook Creek Preserve also provides many climate change resilience benefits, according to Gina King, the Land Trust’s conservation project lead.
The spring-fed creek is cold and clear year-round, she said, and, according to the recent assessment, the creek is incredibly important to the 999-acre Springbrook Creek Watershed for water storage, discharge and recharge.
“It helps the whole watershed to maintain that functioning, even as temperates warm and summers get dryer, these places stay consistently cool and wet,” she said.
Of the six Springbrook Creek Watershed Assessment monitoring stations, the preserve was reportedly the only site within the entire watershed that met state water temperature standards all year.
Springbrook Creek is supposedly the penultimate property of the Stand for the Land campaign.
An as-yet-unnamed fifth site is likely the final major acquisition, officials said, at which time efforts will shift to primarily stewardship, protection and research endeavors.
“[For] this campaign, our goal when we first started was to set out to acquire … five properties and raise $5 million,” Brady explained. “It certainly transitions our mission and what we’re spending money on and raising money for.
“In terms of Stand for the Land, every campaign has a great beginning, a middle and an end,” he added. “And so we still are in the planning phase of how to roll out of Stand for the Land and back into general fundraising for the organization and stewardship and other things. There certainly will be future acquisitions, we’re not done, but … this capital campaign was an island-wide push for community conservation. In the past, the organization has fundraised parcel-by-parcel … and this was, because it’s so island-wide … the goal of the campaign was not just to acquire land but also to increase the conservation ethic on the island and make the land trust part of the island identity within the community, which I think has really been successful.”
From the start, King agreed, support for the effort was encouraging.
“It was kind of an act of faith to ask people to donate before we were even sure what we were buying, especially early in the campaign,” she said. “And that was really impressive that people were like, ‘Yeah, we know that you’ll make good choices for us.’
“It’s tough because the stewardship stuff isn’t as sexy as buying something new, so giving us money to take care of weeds is not as appealing.”
However, it’s not as massive an undertaking, either.
There is a strong history of cooperation between the land trust and the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District, with the former eventually turning over to the latter appropriate pieces of land for increased public use.
“Over 30 years of the land trust, a lot of our parcels that we’ve acquired, or help acquire with partners, we’ve transferred to parks or other partners to manage,” Brady said. “Largely, it would have to do with the sensitivity of the wildlife and stream habitat.”
King agreed, saying that some properties are obviously better suited for preservation.
“As organizations we have slightly different priorities,” she said. “We have a higher emphasis on retaining those intact natural systems, and, of course, public access is welcome whenever we can enable that in a way that’s sensitive to those resources, but it’s a very careful balancing act. And parks has way more pressure for an emphasis on public access.”
To date, the land trust, founded in 1989, has helped protect more than 1,400 acres of forest, wetland, meadow, shoreline and scenic vistas, of which 1,080 are open to the public (visit www.bi-landtrust.org to learn more).
The nonprofit holds 48 conservation easements — 42 on private property and six on publicly-owned properties — encompassing 763 acres of total protected land, with an additional 146 acres owned by the land trust outright.
Although the Bainbridge Island Land Trust’s mission may scale down slightly in the wake of the current campaign’s imminent final large acquisition, Brady said the group’s work will remain as important as ever.
“We certainly hear questions: ‘Do you need more land?’ ‘Does the park district need more land?’ ‘Everything’s been developed or cut down at one point, why is this so important?’
“But that makes it even more important,” he said, “that there are large parcels left to protect — and even smaller parcels that have critical attributes.”