Whidbey Camano Land TrustRetired schoolteacher looks out for forest friends Whidbey Camano Land TrustRetired schoolteacher looks out for forest friends

Retired schoolteacher looks out for forest friends

When Linda Bartlett spotted surveyors setting boundary markers next to the woods behind her farm, she got a sinking feeling in her stomach.

“I hoped it wasn’t for development,” she said.

Bartlett, co-owner of Rosehip Farm & Garden near Coupeville, approached the surveyors and asked why they were there. To her relief, the surveyors told her they were working with the Whidbey Camano Land Trust. They explained that they were marking the boundaries of the forested property on the ridge not for development but for protection.

“I was thrilled,” Bartlett said.

The woods are being protected because of the lifetime of joy one woman has experienced from living near the forest.

Lidabeth Hicks owns a mostly wooded patch of 10 acres on the ridge overlooking Ebey’s Prairie. Her house is nestled right up against the small forest.

Hicks, 96, has lived on her property for 67 years. She’s developed such a love for the wildlife on her land that she donated a conservation easement to the Whidbey Camano Land Trust that prohibits the forest from ever being cut down.

The woods, which include a wetland, not only provide diverse habitat for wildlife but also serve as an important windbreak for neighboring farms.

After tending to children, including two of her own, the retired Coupeville schoolteacher has spent recent decades developing a deeper connection to the critters around her.

“I want to protect the wildlife,” Hicks said. “We have a lot of deer here. I see coyotes occasionally and lots of squirrels and chipmunks. There are all kinds of birds. It’s quiet.”

So quiet she can hear the owls at night.

“They talk to each other,” she said.

Without the conservation easement, Hicks could have placed another home on her property, one with a sweeping view of Ebey’s Prairie and Salish Sea. But the forest was too important to her.

Hicks’ property serves as a wildlife oasis in the middle of hundreds of acres of protected farmland. Protecting such wooded sites is part of a greater vision to create a wildlife corridor along the islands that provides refuge and other benefits to birds, small mammals and other wild creatures, according to Pat Powell, the Land Trust’s executive director.

“It’s a sweet stretch of woods back there,” Bartlett said. “There are deer and pileated woodpeckers. There’s quite a little ecosystem. That could have potentially been an amazing spot if it were to be developed. We’re very excited that it wasn’t.”

Hicks felt strongly that protecting the woods was the right thing to do.

“I haven’t done anything heroic,” she said.

Danielle Bishop, our land protection specialist, feels differently. She’s inspired by Hicks, with whom she’s developed quite an attachment.

“Meeting and working with landowners like Lidabeth is my favorite part of my job,” Bishop said. “I go home feeling most fulfilled when I’ve met landowners and learned a little bit more about their personal stories and why protecting their property means so much to them.”

Alan Hancock, Island County Superior Court judge, has held deep respect and admiration for Hicks since childhood. Not only did Hancock grow up a neighbor and close friend with her son Eric Hopkins, he also was a student in Hicks’ fourth grade class.

“I have nothing but the fondest memories of her as a teacher and as a person in general,” Hancock said. “She was very soft spoken but she commanded respect for the dignity she showed and the even temperament she had. She’s a highly intelligent person and was a great teacher. I learned a lot from her.”

From his home, Hancock can see the stand of woods that Hicks has protected. They’re the same woods he and Hopkins played in often as kids. They even would row a boat in the pond in those days.

“I think it’s a wonderful thing she’s done there,” Hancock said.

Although she loves to watch the wildlife on her property, Hicks rarely sits still. She practices every week in the bell choir at her church and is active with her walking club.

“The secret to a long life is to keep moving,” Hicks said. “I have many blessings.”

And many friends in her forest.