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Bainbridge Island Land Trust board vice president Sally Hewett is framed by the trunks of towering trees as she makes her way down one of the trails of the Rockaway Bluff Preserve on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2020. The acquisition of the 35-acre forest, prominent on the island’s eastern shoreline seen from a state ferry as you come into Eagle Harbor, is part of Bainbridge Island Land Trust’s “Stand for the Land” campaign. (Photo: Meegan M. Reid / Kitsap Sun)

BAINBRIDGE ISLAND – One of the first impressions those traveling on a state ferry get of Bainbridge Island as a boat angles toward the mouth of Eagle Harbor: a long ridge of trees. A large swath of those towering trees, the island’s front porch, will be preserved long-term if the last fundraising pieces in the Bainbridge Island Land Trust’s fundraising campaign “Stand for the Land” fall into place.

The land trust has termed that 35-acre chunk of property the Rockaway Bluff Preserve, the fifth and final preserve area it is acquiring as part of the effort. The land trust has about $2.2 million left to raise in its $7.5 million campaign to finish off the purchases and pay for maintenance of the sites. The total preserved space through the campaign will be about 100 acres.

“It’s not just a feel-good now thing,” said Jane Stone, executive director of the Bainbridge Island Land Trust. “This is here ‘forever.’ This is property that because the land trust is acquiring it and we’re seeing that it has this long-term protection and stewardship, as we call it, the care and feeding of these lands, the intent is this is here for the public and the wildlife and our natural world, at least as long as we humans are here to steward it.”

Rockaway Bluff Preserve, which sits on a bluff above Rockaway Beach on the island’s eastern shoreline, is home to stands of soaring grand fir trees – some that were estimated to be more than 120 years old – and large bands of ferns. The southern edge of the property offers a view of Restoration Point and on a clear day, Mount Rainier.

The land trust has negotiated a sale agreement with the property owner to preserve the site and hopes to raise the remaining funds in a little less than a year’s time, Stone said. The preserve will be pieced into a “U” shape, and a residence will remain on a chunk of the property. Trails would be added to the site to give some public access.

About 300 households sit within a half-mile of the site and more than 500 sit within a mile, according to the land trust, meaning neighbors could easily stroll to the property for a walk in the woods.

“It is a place of healing and refuge amidst all the other anxieties and concerns we all have,” Stone said.

Rockaway Bluff Preserve is one of just nine large parcels on the island larger than 20 acres that’s either undeveloped or unprotected, said Cullen Brady, director of development and communications for the land trust.

“It’s getting fewer and fewer these large undeveloped pieces,” he said.

“What’s really wonderful is coming in on the ferry and just seeing this beautiful, huge area of trees,” said Sally Hewett, vice president of the land trust’s board. “That’s another thing that I’m super happy about being able to preserve, whether you’re coming home or you’re visiting, it’s just a wonderful entrance, like OK, this is a place that has forests. Otherwise, this would be prime development.”

Other properties preserved through the campaign include the 23-acre Springbrook Creek Preserve, off Fletcher Bay Road; the 14-acre Jablonko Preserve, off the Gazzam Lake Nature Preserve; the 15-acre Cougar Creek Preserve, off Blakely Avenue; and the 13-acre Miller-Kirkman Preserve, on Little Manzanita Bay.

Rockaway Bluff Preserve isn’t yet open to the public, but the land trust is organizing small tours. For more information about the property or the campaign, visit bi-landtrust.org.

Nathan Pilling is a reporter covering Bainbridge Island, North Kitsap and Washington State Ferries for the Kitsap Sun. He can be reached at 360-792-5242, [email protected] or on Twitter at @KSNatePilling.

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