It was a typical November day; the air was cool and a light drizzle fell as I pulled up to the main gate of the potential Rockaway Bluff Preserve. This future preserve will be the newest and final acquisition by the Stand for the Land (SFTL) campaign, a Bainbridge Island Land Trust nearly four-year initiative to obtain and safeguard as much land from growing development as possible, which in turn will preserve the critical habitats of the island’s flora and fauna.
I was greeted by SFTL docent, and Board member, Nicole Bavo, for a tour, and before we got started, I asked how she became involved with the Land Trust. Nicole and her family moved to the island in 2013, and like many of us, she was smitten with its natural beauty and the sheer variety of parks, trails and preserves available to the public. She spent her first few years with her family exploring all the island had to offer, but one particular adventure inspired her to work with the Land Trust and particularly, the Stand for the Land project. It was 2016, and the Land Trust was holding their Hooty the Owl scavenger hunt in the Grand Forest. Her kids found Hooty, and when they went to claim their prize, she immediately volunteered, joining the Trust’s fundraising committee, and later their outreach committee. Nicole further explained, “With the acquisitions for the SFTL properties more tour docents were needed to lead tours so I signed up to lead tours at Springbrook Creek Preserve in March of 2020 but Covid curtailed those opportunities. Now that Rockaway Bluff Preserve is available to small docent-led group tours, I am helping lead tours there, along with a small army of volunteer docents. After volunteering for 3 years and being on the board for 2 years I had learned a lot about the Land Trust’s work and was ready to share it with community members and Land Trust supporters who wanted to get out on the land and learn more. It’s great fun to walk through the beautiful places on Bainbridge Island and share the magnificence with others!”
Through the Land Trust’s research, they’ve identified several areas in need of conservation in order to preserve the forest habitat, shorelines, and terrestrial resources, such as streams, wetlands, significant marine habitats and critical aquifer recharge areas, as well as the natural wildlife habitats and breeding grounds. Rockaway Bluff Preserve is one such area, and more importantly it is one of only 9 undeveloped and (previously) unprotected parcels of 20 acres or more in size remaining on the island. The preserve’s forest link to Eagle Harbor to the north, Blakely Harbor to the south, and the large protected forests and wetlands of both Blakely Harbor Park and Island Wood, making it all the more essential to preserve and protect.
As Nicole led me along a trail of thickly matted fallen leaves, she pointed out the variety of trees surrounding us, pacific yews, large grand firs (one of which measures 4 feet in diameter), western hemlock and bigleaf maples, as well as a blanket of sword ferns which were low enough to afford and incredible and expansive view through the trees. She explained that the preserve is made up of 4 different parcels which have been owned by the Alber family for two generations. The landowner is choosing to retain a portion of the property for their private residence, allowing for the remaining 35 acres to fall under the Rockaway Bluff Preserve. The division of the property will allow the Land Trust to protect the areas with the highest conservation value. As we continued along the trail, the utter beauty was almost magical in its unending variety of greens and textures, she noted that when the sun shone through the trees and reflected off of those different variations of color, it became an almost enchanted forest. The canopy/overstory of Rockaway is very high, consisting mainly of large grand firs and big-leaf maples, but there were also quite a few western red cedars and Douglas firs on display.
As we traversed along the trail, Nicole pointed out several snags (tree stumps of various heights) which were well-used by woodpeckers, who feed on insects under the bark and created nesting and roosting holes for other bird species. Although they have not installed nature cameras yet, the Land Trust is fortunate to have a naturalist neighbor, who, along with other birders have documented over 80 bird species, including all 5 of our native woodpeckers and multiple avian predators, such as hawks, owls, bald eagles, merlin, osprey, and peregrine falcon. On occasion, Vaux’s swifts have been seen swooping through and roosting in the hollow snags (sometimes in the thousands). In addition to the avian population, there are quite a few Douglas squirrels, bushy-tailed woodrats, shrews, moles, coyotes and bats that call Rockaway home—the diversity of flora and fauna on Bainbridge Island is in full display.
Our final stop on the trail ended at the bluff, which has a spectacular view of the Sound, the ferries making their turn into Eagle Harbor, and on a clear day, Mt. Rainier and Seattle.
The diverse vegetation of the preserve increases its ability to withstand change over time, and although the forest is not true old-growth, it may be some of the oldest trees on the island. Some of the history of the property is known, but the Trust is still gathering information so they can present a clear time-line of Rockaway Bluff Preserve. There could even be a potential opportunity for a 5-mile round trip trail route, which would allow users to walk or bicycle from Pritchard Park and the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial National Historic Site, then south for a loop through the Rockaway Bluff Preserve, and onto the historic site of Port Blakely Mill and Hall Brothers Shipyard at Blakely Harbor Park.
A very important, and ever-increasing part of the work the Land Trust does, revolves around caring for the land they’ve acquired. This entails fundraising campaigns to ensure long-term management and stewardship, in addition to developing land management plans for now, and in the future. Contributions from their supporters and the community are still needed to secure Rockaway Bluff Preserve and permanently protect this beautiful woodland treasure.
The property is not open to the public yet, however they are leading private tours (reservations required, and parties are limited to 5 people or less, comprised of 4 visitors and 1 docent, click here for details). The Land Trust is still actively fundraising to secure the 35-acre parcel, and hopes to meet their goal in 2021. To contribute to the effort, please click here.
The Stand for the Land project is the largest campaign in Land Trust history. Previously acquired properties as a part of the SFTL campaign include the Jablonko Preserve, Cougar Creek Preserve, Springbrook Creek Preserve, and Miller-Kirkman Preserve.
The Bainbridge Island Land Trust was established in 1989, and its mission is to preserve and steward the diverse natural environment of Bainbridge Island for the benefit of all.
There are many volunteer opportunities provided by the Bainbridge Island Land Trust, such as Stewardship Monitoring, First Wednesday Work Parties, Land Trust Teen Conservation Crew, Events, and Fall Native Plan Sale.
The Land Trust is always looking for advisors, such as wildlife and fisheries biologists, botanists, geologists, hydrologists and more. For more information on volunteer opportunities, click here.
If you’d like to learn more about the Land Trust, click here to read my November 2019 article.
*Photographs by Sue Larkin and Margaret Millmore – logos provided by, and used with permission from The Bainbridge Island Land Trust