Possession Sound Preserve: A Step Back in Time
New Whidbey Preserve Offers Beauty and Ecological Importance
As you step from the forested hillside onto the beach, you immediately become aware of how isolated it seems. All you hear is the quiet lapping of waves. All you see in either direction is a long expanse of beach, backed by feeder bluffs topped with mature evergreen trees. On a clear day you can see Mount Baker in the distance.
“A walk along that shoreline is like a walk back in time,” Dan Matlock said. It’s the sort of place where an afternoon stroll on the beach offers solace and peace.
The 54-acre Possession Sound Preserve is the Land Trust’s newest nature preserve. South of Clinton on Whidbey Island, it has more than a half mile of beach previously off limits to the public. Matlock, a retired biology professor and Land Trust board member, has visited the property many times. He joins a long list of people wowed by its natural beauty and vital role in the ecology of the Salish Sea.
“Among its features that are especially valuable are the natural, untouched half-mile stretch of classic Puget Sound feeder bluff and beach with its natural drift cell sediment transport,” Matlock explained. “This is especially important for forage fish spawning.”
“You can’t get that feeling of being kind of the last man on earth anywhere.” – Dan Weber, Land Trust member from Clinton
Forage fish, including Pacific herring, smelt and sand lance, are critical food sources for salmon, which migrate along the preserve’s shoreline while traveling to and from the Skagit, Stillaguamish, and Snohomish rivers. Salmon are the key food source for the region’s beloved orca whales. Adding even more benefit to the marine ecosystem, eelgrass beds line the preserve’s 2,820 feet of shoreline. Two seasonal streams meander through the mature upland forest and down into Possession Sound.
Permanent protection of the property also will safeguard the stability of the steep and actively eroding 180-foot bluff. The former owner of the property worked for more than 40 years to develop the property for homes, completing a rather precarious road to the beach. Now that same road will be used as a trail so the public can gain access.
“There are so few opportunities to protect long stretches of undeveloped shoreline like this,” said Ryan Elting, Land Trust conservation director. “When you also consider the public access component, it’s a complete winner for people, fish and wildlife.”
The preserve won’t be open for public use until safety issues and visitor improvements can be made. When it does open, the Whidbey Audubon Society is eager to make bird inventories.
“I think people will love to have a public access point there,” said Sharon Gauthier, Whidbey Audubon Society president. “Right there, you can see a lot of the seabirds that come in. It will be a convenient spot for a lot of people to observe birds. It’s going to be a very exciting place.”
Restoration projects will soon be underway. The Land Trust is partnering with the Washington Department of Natural Resources to remove toxic creosote pilings from the property. We’ll also be working with the Veterans Conservation Corps and community volunteers to prepare the property for public access.
In a great partnership with Island County, the Land Trust secured nearly $2.1 million from four funding grants to secure the property. A salmon recovery grant and an aquatic lands enhancement grant were received from the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office. Also received was a $1 million national coastal wetlands grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service through the Washington State Department of Ecology. A fourth grant was from the Island County Conservation Futures Fund.
Dan Weber is grateful the shoreline preserve will be protected. He and his wife, Laurie Carron, live near the property and have walked that stretch of beach frequently over the years.
“You can’t get that feeling of kind of being the last man on earth anywhere,” he said.
Worth the Wait! New Preserve Will Open to Public by 2021
Don’t rush to Possession Sound Preserve just yet. It won’t be open for public use until needed visitor improvements and safety issues are completed.
Timing depends on the Land Trust’s ability to secure adequate funding. This will include securing grants and/or privately-raised funds next year so that we can construct a parking lot before the rainy season. Meanwhile, site clean-up, fencing, signs, and safety measures are on the agenda before the opening date.
Once these improvements are made, the trail to the long stretch of beach will provide permanent public access in an underserved area of Whidbey Island. Birding, beachcombing, kayaking, fishing, nature viewing and other low-impact recreation will be allowed at the preserve. Contact us to donate or to volunteer!