Land trust considers buying pristine Agate Passage site
BAINBRIDGE ISLAND — The Bainbridge Island Land Trust is pursuing an Agate Passage property for all the things the property doesn't have.
There are no houses on the 12-acre waterfront site, comprised of two parcels of land west of Highway 305. There are no sea walls, decks or docks either.
The property represents a rare swath of near-pristine coastline, said Land Trust Executive Director Asha Rehnberg. More than 80 percent of Bainbridge's 53 miles of shoreline are armored with bulkheads or other structures.
"It's critical for us to do as much as we can to protect the undeveloped shoreline," Rehnberg said. "We decided these two parcels are absolutely on the top of the list as far as their importance."
After three years of discussion, the owners of the property have offered to sell the parcels to the Land Trust at a discount from market value. The Land Trust must decide by early December whether to exercise the option to buy the properties.
The two parcels will cost about $1 million, and the Land Trust will need to make an initial payment of about $250,000 if it decides to buy the property. The group is already gathering private donations and has applied for grants from several agencies, including the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, Puget Sound Partnership and the Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program.
The Wildlife and Recreation Program placed a $275,000 request from the Land Trust on its priority list for 2013. The funding must be approved by the Legislature.
The Land Trust is still determining how it will steward the property if it closes the deal. Habitat preservation will be the top priority, but there might be an opportunity for some gentle recreational use, said Stewardship Director Brenda Padgham. The property could become a stop for kayakers and hikers, and a picnic destination for families, she said.
The Land Trust will discuss those possibilities with neighbors and granting agencies before deciding what makes sense. In any case, the property won't become an active park, Padgham said.
"It's a preserve type of property," she said.
The waterfront felt preserve-like on a visit last week. A trail leads from the highway through a dense woodland to a cleared meadow above the water. A set of stairs descends a sand bank to a gravelly stretch of shoreline. Maples, firs and madronas lean over the beach, and a seasonal stream can be heard trickling onto the rocks. A heron was perched on a fallen tree, apparently enjoying a break between rain squalls.
Padgham said the shoreline shows all the signs of a healthy riparian ecosystem. The sand bank is eroding naturally, feeding sediment onto the beach. The overhanging vegetation produces swarms of insects for transiting salmon to feed on. Eelgrass beds offshore provide nursery habitat and feeding areas for sea life.
"It's important for forage fish, it's important for sea birds, it's important for diving ducks," Padgham said of the riparian area.
The property includes 550 feet of linear shoreline. Its boundaries extend to the extreme low tide line, encompassing 4.3 acres of tideland. Padgham said the land was noted on several recent shoreline assessments for its rich blend of habitat features and lack of development.
"It's been a property that's gotten a lot of attention from a scientific community perspective," she said.
It doesn't take a degree in biology to appreciate the waterfront. The upland meadows offer views of the Agate Passage, the Olympic Mountains and Port Orchard strait. The shoreline is alive with kingfishers, diving ducks and seals. Padgham said the property has a strong aesthetic appeal as well as ecological value.
"I think it speaks to some people," she said.
For information on Bainbridge Island Land Trust, go to www.bi-landtrust.org.