The History of Blakely Islands Preserving Trust and Crowley’s Long Legacy to SPU.
In 1979, the San Juan Preservation Trust (SJPT) was nationally accredited to private, nonprofit and membership-based land trust and in so, creating a mission in the hopes to preserve and protect “open, scenic, forest, agricultural lands, habitats, watersheds, riparian corridors, wetlands, and shorelines in the San Juan Archipelago.”
This land was implemented in dedicating the beauty of San Juan island’s beauty and to help people and communities conserve land among the islands of Washington State.
Currently, the preservation trust permanently covers 300 properties, 47 miles of shoreline and 17,000 acres on 20 of the islands, including the land that manages public parks, nature preserves, wildlife habitat, farms and forests.
While the San Juan islands are made up of multiple large and small islands surrounding the Pacific Northwest of Washington, the 20 islands in which the SJPT extends to are Waldron Island, Orcas Island, Shaw Island, San Juan Island, Lopez Island, Guemes Island, Fidalgo Island, Sinclair Island, Vendovi Island, Stuart Island, and of course, Blakely Island.
The trust itself was created in the late 70’s by a group of residents that lived on the island that not only discovered the majestic rareness that makes up the San Juan islands, but also decided to discontinue its land acquisition activities in the San Juans.
During the early 1970’s, Thomas Crowley Sr., owned a property by the marina and airport on Blakely Island. Originally hailing from Oakland, California, Crowley Sr. spent many years flying, easily, back and forth from his home to the remote island of Blakely in his little bonanza airplane.
“It was his go-to destination and for a man of his resources, to choose this place… its gotta be a pretty special spot. Doesn’t it?” LeRoy Hubbert, station manager and care taker of SPU’s Blakely Island field station explained over breakfast our first morning, beaming with a smile.
LeRoy has this ability to recall very vivid memories, whether he was there in the moment or not – you begin to feel as though you’re being transported to the exact period from his acute facts and charismatic expressions.
Around this time, the greatest engineering fleet – or as LeRoy likes to describe it as—was underway from Alaska to the Pacific Northwest in creating the Alaskan pipeline—Crowley Sr. just so happened to a part of this excursion.
At this point, Crowley Sr. had not only lived and visited Blakely Island numerous of times in his life, he had quickly grown a deep connection and appreciation for the land and what the island provided, wanting to preserve and make a mark of legacy in protecting all that this island had gifted.
In 1976, Crowley and Syre came together to create a Conservation Easement (CE) on portions around their Blakely properties—(lots 1 and 2 that can be seen on the map above). In doing so, Crowley Sr. wished to use his portion of 33, 000 acres of land for larger uses and for others to enjoy what the Island could and did provide. After reaching out with other smaller colleges around the Washington area – at the time what was known as Seattle Pacific College, became the winner and was assigned and granted affiliation under Crowley’s Easement Act.
In their contract, their hopes were intended to, “the right to identify, preserve, and protect in perpetuity the scenic and aesthetic features, ecosystems, and historically important land areas, all other natural environmental systems and to require that the property is used exclusively for conservation purposes.”
In this, it also granted SPU permission to acquire the entire land for educational purposes, as well. Which also allowed the university to develop their own facilities that would subsequently be built on Crowley’s land. The university was given 1,000 acres to do as they pleased . Crowley Sr. writing a check and hiring contractors to construct and build educational facilities for the university, all using the trees and resources that were provided in the area.
The entire project took roughly four years to create and afterwards, Crowley Sr. wrote a check of $20 million dollars to be placed in a trust fund for SPU to use for years that followed.
Along with providing great, lifetime opportunity and partnership between Crowley Sr., SJPT and SPU, the Easement Act also provides the right to prohibit clear cutting anywhere on the island, and to “the right to prohibit the introduction of wild or domestic animals or plants whose proliferation cannot be reasonably controlled or are consistent with the present character of the property.”
While being on island, you are invited to seeing much wildlife that feels rather foreign to those who are settled nice and soundly in the heart of the very busy, tech life of Seattle with congested traffic, sirens and hazy city lights; and given the scenery of golden hour lightening casting the chestnut wood forest with deer’s prancing, otters grazing the lakes, bat swarming the still night air, birds and bees humming to the breeze, and eagles soaring above the clouds, Blakely Island offers a whole new world to Washington State.
In 1993, the Crowley Easement Act was then gifted the rights of protection to the properties of lots 3-8, which held in place of those already under the 1976 protection of 1976, including the retaining rights of SPU’s parcels for educational usage.
It wasn’t until two years ago, in 2016, that the San Juan Preservation Trust (SJPT), did the coverage of the preservation finally apply to the land affiliated to the SPU property become emplaced—this affirmed SPU’s rights to all current facilities, but prohibits any further residential development of the land except for those “incidental to and appropriate in relation to SPU’s use of the property for educational, research or scientific purposes…”
But while SPU’s placement on Crowley’s gracious easement act was not implemented until 2016—only six years before that was Blakely Island fully protected in 2010 after Lindy Springmeyer and Mike Kennedy—neighbors to the Crowley family—contacted the SJPT in 2004 in seeking for a conservation solution for their 80 acre plot of land that would create a cost-sharable idea.
The 80 acres of land held special value to the family as it was close by to the small, remote Willow Island along the west bank of Blakely, which is a familiar site to many who ride the ferries from Lopez and Anacortes.
The half a mile of shoreline offers Garry oak grasslands, patches of prickly pear cactus’s, and an old growth forest that is one of the oldest and few places left on the island that has never been logged.
The space was too precious not to preserve.
By 2009, after the Crowley family approached the Trust with just that—a cost-share idea that allowed the SJPT to pay the Crowley’s $350,000 for the property, which was in the end, 25 percent less than the market value.
The difference of value was then donated to the project of the Crowley Easement Act.
Today, with the SJPT and Crowley Easement Act, it covers the complete natural state of the island, as well as adjacent properties previously preserved under Crowley. With 2,330 acres of conservation, representing over one-half of the 4,435 mile acre island, Blakely is the 5th largest preserved San Juan Island.
Overall, the current number of residents that reside on the island is small in size; 1 unit for lots of 1 through 20, with no more than 5 units for the Tompkins and Whaleback parcel, and no more than 3 units under the Pietro and Kubota.
There is no place like that of Blakely Island. With the long-lasting support of the San Juan Preservation Trust and the forever legacy of Crowley’s Easement Act in dedicating his energy to giving back, we can only hope that with this gift, Blakely can stay for a long while.