Land trust sets sights on former Samish Island tulip farm

August 7, 2018

SAMISH ISLAND — The next property the Skagit Land Trust hopes to conserve is a site with lush forest, sandy beach and a rich history.

The Samish Flower Farm is where Mary Brown Stewart pioneered tulip farming in the Skagit Valley.

“When she bought bulb stock from Holland in the early 1900s, the community questioned why she was not growing food crops,” Stewart’s great granddaughter Maggie Murphy said.

Little did Stewart know she was planting a bulb that would bloom into a central part of the region’s farming industry and bring visitors from around the world to witness the beauty of the tulip fields.

The about 38-acre property includes several acres of forest and 500 feet of Padilla Bay shoreline.

“There’s something very romantic about walking along this trail,” Skagit Land Trust Development and Outreach Director Laura Hartner said, while making her way through the forest from the beach. “You’re walking through the past. I feel very ‘Anne of Green Gables.’”

The land trust wants to see that forest remain undisturbed, rather than be logged and developed into multiple homes — a possibility under current zoning if the property is purchased by another buyer.

The property is near the entrance to the island, with large trees shading Samish Island Road. Foresters estimates some of the trees are 125 to 180 years old, Skagit Land Trust Executive Director Molly Doran said, while leading a tour of the property Wednesday.

“It’s the gateway, the front door, of Samish Island,” she said.

Murphy and her siblings, who inherited the property from their mother, have agreed to sell about 35 acres of the property to the land trust if the organization can secure the necessary funds by October.

The land trust needs to raise $1.24 million for the project, including the costs of buying and managing the property. The land trust’s plans for the property include building and maintaining trails, adding signs to make the property boundaries clear and establishing parking for property visitors.

In addition to grants, land trust funding and major donations, the land trust needs at least $300,000 in community donations, Hartner said.

She said about 75 percent of the total cost has been secured or applied for through the state Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program and federal North American Wetlands Conservation Act.

Doran and Murphy said the agreement they’ve reached — if enough money is raised — is a win-win. The plan would allow the land trust to purchase most of the property and let the family keep about 3 acres where some of them still occupy family homes.

“That preserves the most important ecological areas of the property and allows the family to keep their heritage here,” Doran said.

Keeping the Samish Island property intact has been a longstanding family goal.

“We are really happy ... to have this as the outcome, and I am so deeply appreciative of all the support from the community,” Murphy said.

Other than the homes and a path from the upper reaches of the property to the beach, the property has been largely untouched, she said.

Standing on the sandy beach at low tide, green trees towering behind the tour group, Doran held up a clump of eelgrass.

“It’s important for baby salmon, for herring, for baby crabs,” land trust supporter Jack Middleton said. “It’s amazing that when the water comes in it all stands up and creates this habitat.”

Along the forested path, Doran also pointed out yew and oak trees.

“There’s a lot of diversity in the trees here,” Hartner said.

Most of the Samish Flower Farm was not logged during the time when the rest of the island and much of the region were.

“I really think my grandparents were environmentalists before it was even cool,” Murphy said.

The largely pristine property is near others protected by conservation easements, Skagit County Parks and Recreation, the state Department of Fish & Wildlife and the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve.

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