Trust’s new Rockaway Bluff provides ‘cathedral forest, spirituality’

Marks 5th acquisition for nonprofit’s Stand for the Land campaign in BI

The Bainbridge Island Land Trust recently announced its fifth acquisition — the 35-acre Rockaway Bluff Preserve high above Rockaway Beach between Blakely and Eagle harbors that will allow “quiet pursuits of nature.”

“There’s a contemplative feel to this property,” said Jane Stone, executive director of the land trust. “There’s a spot I call the ‘cathedral forest’ because it’s just all these straight, tall trees. It just feels like pillars, ancient cathedrals, or something. It does have a vibe to it and a feel to it that I think evokes spirituality. I think it really lends itself to those quiet pursuits of nature.”

The trust already acquired four pieces of land through donations for the nonprofit’s Stand for the Land Campaign.

The campaign started a few years back in the face of growing development. Through community support, the trust launched a multi-year initiative to protect as many beloved island places and as much critical habitat as possible and is now the largest campaign in the nonprofit’s history, which dates back to 1989.

With the addition of Rockaway, the campaign’s five pieces of land surpasses 100 total acres. The other previously acquired properties that are now preserves include: 23-acre Springbrook Creek, 14-acre Jablonko, 15-acre Cougar Creek and 13-acre Miller-Kirkman.

“We are thrilled to have this opportunity to take a giant leap forward together, as a community, for protected spaces on Bainbridge Island,” said Sally Hewett, vice president of the trust’s board of directors. “From the initial neighborhood enthusiasm to the support we’ve already received, this is certainly going to serve as an icon for this island and the Puget Sound region.”

Background

The 35-acre Rockaway property was stewarded for decades by a local family and forms the core of an extraordinary intact, but currently unprotected, upland forest that largely forms a first impression of the island from the Seattle-Bainbridge ferry as it pulls into Eagle Harbor, a news release says.

Stone said the property isn’t open to the public yet as the trust is still “in the process of purchasing it.” Once the sale is complete, some guided tours of the property will be held in the fall to comply with COVID-19 guidelines. Once the trail is fully-opened, there will be public access.

“It speaks to the community and neighborhood level of involvement in all of this, we’ve gotten a number of phone calls from folks in the community when the for sale sign went up to alert us of the fact that this was for sale,” Stone said. “Knowing there was that level of initial neighborhood support was a real factor in the land trust being willing to take on a pretty heavy lift for anybody, much less a relatively small nonprofit.” Stone noted the original goal for the Stand for the Land campaign was only to acquire five or six properties at around $5 million, but the land trust has adjusted its fundraising goal to around $7.5 million to fully pay for the properties, along with a modest amount that will be reserved for “long-term stewardship.”

“It really creates another stepping-stone for wildlife … and trail connections for public access,” Stone said about the land acquisitions that are nearby in proximity. “We’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people who have told us how important access to natural areas has been during this time. It’s been huge; that’s all a lot of people have been able to do. So many of us in the community have valued what we’ve been able to do with all the different lands that the land trust has helped preserve.”

Development director Cullen Brady touched on the success of a virtual fundraiser they hold over the summer where the land trust’s fundraising goal was exceeded by a “significant amount” and about equal to what they have raised in non-COVID years.

“It’s really reassuring that we have that community support,” he said

Land attributes

The preserve provides critical refuge for many species, specifically birds, who are dislodged from North American Pacific Maritime habitats lost to development in the greater-Seattle area, the news release says. In initial surveys, the land trust has received identifications of about 82 bird species, 17 of which are considered vulnerable to climate change by the Audubon.

Another species that is conducive to the densely forested habitat is the Humboldt’s Flying Squirrel. Stone said this kind of forest would be ideal for them because they can move through the overhanging trees without much difficulty.

The forest is fairly unique for the island, consisting of older trees, noting the last logging occurred much longer ago than other respective island forests, Stone said. The height of the trees and their overhanging canopies create a “much different feel than a lot of our preserved lands around here,” she said.

Various trees can be found while venturing through the preserve, such as Grand Fir’s, Big Leaf Maples, and snags (dead trees that are left upright). Brady noted the snags are critical habitat for woodpeckers and other species.

Climate change

One of the critical reasons the land trust considered the Rockaway Bluff Preserve so heavily was the ability to increase the resiliency of the community for climate change, Brady said.

“Right on the other side of this is a really steep slope,” Brady said about the cliff that the preserve sits atop. “Protecting that slope is critically important, not just for those houses but for the community as a whole. Not having development up here certainly protects that. Development has a huge impact on slope stability. It is one of the lenses that we look at in our acquisitions.”

In terms of maintaining the land for years to come, Stone said volunteers are the single-biggest driving force behind that. Details are available at bi-landtrust.org

“We’ve got a great pool of members, and people who like to roll up their sleeves on the land. We’re learning how to do that differently going forward now in COVID,” she said regarding the many work parties they’ve had to hold off on because of the pandemic. “Our volunteers are a big part of us taking care of lands. Every property we acquire, we do a pretty detailed inventory of the attributes of the property (wildlife, birds, plants) and use that to help develop a management plan for the future.”

“We’re not against development but we’re also very much for let’s preserve what we can and let’s also maintain that balance between the natural world and inevitable and needed population, economic growth,” Stone went on to say. “We’re just trying to keep pace.”

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