Greenbank Wildlife Oasis
(A special thanks to Ron Newberry and the Whidbey News Times for the photos and content in this story. To see the complete story and other recent news articles, click here).
A Passion for Nature
When Frances Sweeney was a young girl, one of her childhood sanctuaries was her grandparents’ California land and home. She remembers the chili peppers in their garden, the eucalyptus trees and the orange groves nearby.
After her grandfather died in 1969, her grandmother finally relented to the demands of a developer and sold the land. The next time Frances visited the property, her heart sank. The tropical neighborhood of former one acre-lots was replaced by condominiums, apartments and a strip mall.
“It broke my heart,” she said.
The mental scar from that memory still resonates with Frances, creating an awareness and appreciation that has followed her in life. Over the past 26 years, she and her husband, Kelly, built their own dream on 10 woodsy acres on Whidbey Island. Now, by partnering with the Whidbey Camano Land Trust to permanently protect their wildlife oasis with a conservation easement, they’ve ensured that dream will live on long after they’re gone.
With the conservation easement in place, the land stays as a wildlife haven and is never developed. The Sweeneys still own the property, but have essentially given up their development rights. The Sweeneys also hope they might serve as an example to encourage other small landowners to do the same to keep Whidbey wild and beautiful.
“This is a place of beauty,” Kelly Sweeney said. “We’re living in harmony with nature.”
The home is surrounded by six forested acres of mature trees that were left untouched. The Sweeneys’ pride and joy is a vast nut orchard on both sides of the home that includes about 150 hazelnut trees, 100 walnut trees and 50 other types of nut trees. A seasonal stream flows across the property and through land protected by Island County and the Nature Conservancy.
The bounty of nuts that are produced make the Sweeneys popular with local wildlife. They also serve well Frances’ love for baking and Kelly’s sweet tooth. Many baking ingredients are supplied on the property through the Sweeneys’ wide variety of berries they grow in their spacious organic garden.
“We both grew up in the city,” Frances said. “This place has taught us to work with nature and in nature.”
Kelly is a licensed ship captain on commercial vessels, magazine contributor and author. The couple runs a business out of their home called Maritime Headhunters, which helps other sea captains from around the world find crew on short notice. This business keeps Kelly home, rather than at sea. And home is where he wants to be.
A Legacy Forever
Located off Baaken Road, the Sweeneys are a short drive away from State Route 525, yet are in their own world on their secluded, peaceful property. In the time they’ve lived on Whidbey, they point to the development along Mukilteo Speedway across the water from Clinton as a place they’ve seen transformed in a major way in a relatively short period of time.
“It’s not like this could never happen here,” Frances said. “We know what can happen to beautiful places.”
Under the conservation easement, customized with restrictions by the Sweeneys, the land must remain its single-family residence state on 10 acres with no further development in perpetuity regardless who owns the property in the future.
“In perpetuity,” Frances said, breaking into a laugh. “I love that word.”