The truly amazing folks at the San Juan County Conservation Land Bank have been purchasing and preserving wild land and farmland in San Juan County for over 30 years to protect it from development. They manage the land for wildlife habitat, water & forest protection, farming, recreation and the well-being for all of us. San Juan Island alone features 15 preserves and 14 conservation easements with 12 of them being publicly accessible. Here are our 5 absolute favorites:
1. Deadman Bay Preserve
This crescent shaped gem adjacent to the whale watch park got its charming name during the prohibition, when smugglers illegally transported whiskey and Chinese slaves over from Canada, all chained together. When confronted by the coast guard, they threw their cargo overboard and the current did the rest. Thankfully, today despite its notorious history is a place of peace with deer strolling the beach, otters and seals splashing in the tide pools and Bald Eagles perching on towering Douglas firs. Take the trail up into the woods or along the steep cliffs into the whale watch park to see its iconic light house.
2. Lime Kiln Preserve
From Lime Kiln State Park (aka the whale watch park) walk north toward the rebuilt lime kiln, then leave the park and ascend into the woods and old quarries for some truly astonishing views, which might make you feel more like you are in the Alps than on an island. Roam all 174 acres of this preserve with trails leading to Westside Road as well as all the way back to Deadman Bay.
3. Third Lagoon Preserve
Nestled on the southern tip of San Juan Island, this rare saltwater lagoon with intertidal salt marsh is important habitat for waterfowl, including a Blue Heron rookery and giant Bald Eagle nests. Tread lightly in the beautiful place with hiking trails to Mt. Finalyson and Jakles Lagoon.
4. Mount Grant Preserve
San Juan Island’s highest accessible mountain was just barely saved from development and offers sweeping summit views and picnic benches above mature, diverse woodlands. Explore the trails and enjoy the wildflowers in Spring. Watch for newts on the ground and raptors in the air. On Sundays from March through October, you can drive to the top so people of all physical abilities may enjoy the vistas.
5. Zylstra Lake Preserve
This watershed and farmland preserve offers a lovely stroll around a fishable lake, trails lined with Hawthorne, ancient, gnarly trees weight down by Old Man’s Beard and active farms and their cute animals. Bring your binoculars and observe over 100 species of birds, like the majestic Trumpeter Swan in winter.