The immense bluffs, coastal forest, and marine shoreline of Kelly’s Point have been conserved by Skagit Land Trust. Over 450 families, businesses, and organizations donated towards the $1,380,000 purchase that conserved the property on the southwest corner of Guemes Island. Other funds were provided by The Conservation Fund as a bridge loan while the Trust awaits a federal U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service grant award. The purchase of these 27 acres, with 3000 feet of marine shoreline, ensures that the land will remain forever undeveloped, maintaining its rich wildlife habitat and natural shoreline. Skagit Land Trust will manage the property as one of its conservation areas.
Beloved by residents, visitors, and boaters, the towering cliffs of Yellow Bluff are an iconic part of the Guemes Island landscape. Yellow Bluff’s immense cliffs are termed “feeder bluff exceptional” because they contribute an exceptional amount of sand and gravel to island beaches. This sediment sustains both wildlife habitat, including the nearby Peach Preserve Wildlife Area owned by the San Juan Preservation Trust, and barrier beaches found in front of family homes. The sediment also anchors marine eelgrass meadows used by surf smelt, mollusks, crabs, and shrimp. These creatures are the food source for small fish essential to juvenile salmon, seabirds, migrating waterfowl, and orca whales.
“For decades, long before I understood the concept of a feeder bluff, I've loved Kelly’s Point. It’s one of the largest stretches of beach I've walked in all of the islands,” says Karen Everett of Guemes Island.
For the past 60 years the landowners have allowed the community to visit this undeveloped area. When the property went up for sale, Skagit Land Trust immediately received calls from concerned citizens. A potential sale could have led to logging and development of the land, endangering the fragile bluffs. Public access could have also been closed.
With a price-tag close to $1.4 million, the Trust looked for resources that could help them protect this critical site. With assistance from the Washington State Department of Ecology, the Trust applied for a $980,000 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Coastal Wetlands Grant. During the grant application process, the landowners received a competing offer. However, they liked the idea of the property being conserved. They agreed to give Skagit Land Trust a chance to buy the land as long as the Trust was able to have funds in hand to finalize the purchase by early 2018.
“We knew Kelly’s Point was beloved in our community – today and in generations past. Everyone we spoke to had a special feeling for this place,” says Trust Executive Director, Molly Doran. “We were facing a limited window of time to raise the money to buy and steward it. But we had protected Guemes Mountain in 2009 with enormous community help. So we said, OK, let’s figure out how to get this done on time!”
A steering committee was quickly formed, and included Guemes Island residents Joost Businger, Edie Clark, Gary Curtis, Karen Everett, Phil Fenner, Kit Harma, Marianne Kooiman, Randy and Barbara Schnabel, Sue Skillman, Edith Walden, David Wertheimer, and Ian Woofenden. Skagit Land Trust board members Carolyn Gastellum, Rusty Kuntze, Mark Linnemann and Anne Winkes also served on the committee.
“With four short months to raise the funds needed, the committee went to work. They were amazing! We could not have done this without them. They led tours, hosted a soup ‘bluffet’ and informational presentations, presented challenge matches, and talked to just about everyone on and off the island who cared about Kelly’s Point and Yellow Bluff,” says Skagit Land Trust’s Development Director Laura Hartner.
The accelerated timeline also meant the Trust needed to purchase the property before they received grant funds from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, so they reached out to The Conservation Fund. This national organization advances local conservation efforts in many ways, including providing versatile, low-interest loans for urgent conservation needs.
“The Conservation Fund has been an exceptional partner, provided bridge financing that was necessary to purchase the property within a short time-frame and before grant funds were available,” says Kari Odden, the Trust’s Conservation Project Manager who oversaw the land acquisition.
“The Trust will steward this special place with the help of volunteers and keep it accessible to current and future generations, who can continue the tradition of walking its spectacular, rocky beach,” says Michael Kirshenbaum, Skagit Land Trust’s Conservation Director. “At the same time we’ll be able to protect the unique eroding bluffs and towering coastal forest for generations of wildlife. We will solicit public input as we create a management plan for this new conservation area.”
“It's been spectacular to see the way our local community rallied to the cause of protecting this gem of a property,” says steering committee member, David Wertheimer. “With more than 20% of Guemes Island now in some form of permanent protection, it's great to know that the character of this corner of Puget Sound, and its role in a healthy ecosystem, will be protected for posterity."
About Skagit Land Trust: Skagit Land Trust is a local non-profit conservation organization supported by over 1,100 individuals, families and businesses that protects important natural lands for the benefit of the community and for future generations of people and wildlife. Working with communities, landowners, and partners, the Trust has protected more than 8,000 acres of land and 40 miles of marine and freshwater shoreline in Skagit County. For more information about Kelly’s Point visit www.skagitlandtrust.org.