Our 2012 Environmental Awards

Here are the people and organizations working hard to perserve the most special places of the West

Best shoreline

Photo by Thomas J. Story, illustration by Kozyndan

Best shoreline

What didn’t happen here: A waterfront resort and luxury housing.

Why it’s a winner: The 94 acres of Washington’s Devil’s Head will be an amazing public park.When one landowner gazed at Devil’s Head—a mile-long beach, killer views of Puget Sound, Mt. Rainier, and the Olympics—he had a dream. Specifically, a dream of McMansions and a coastal retreat on this 94-acre tip of the Key Peninsula west of Tacoma. That didn’t happen, thanks to the work of Forterra, formerly the Cascade Land Conservancy. Over several years, the conservancy amassed $3.4 million to buy the land for Pierce County. As is standard with recession-battered real-estate deals these days, nothing about buying Devil’s Head was easy: Conservationists had to deal with the landowner’s bankruptcy. But they prevailed. Now hikers will have new forests and beaches to tromp, and kayakers a new stop on the Cascadia Marine Trail.

Take a look: For now, the best way to see Devil’s Head is from a kayak (eventually trails will be developed). forterra.org

Best local land trust and best visitor center

Photo by Bill Timmerman

Best local land trust and best visitor center

LOCAL LAND TRUST

What didn’t happen here: Desert and mountains paved over.

Why it’s a winner: Greater Phoenix/Scottsdale gets a bad rap for sprawl. But over the last 20 years, McDowell Sonoran Conservancy has preserved 21,400 acres of wilderness (with 100 miles of trails) on the edge of the metro area, closing in on its goal of creating the largest urban nature preserve in the country. 

Take a look: Gateway Trailhead, 18333 N. Thompson Peak Pkwy., Scottsdale. mcdowellsonoran.org

VISITOR CENTER

What didn’t happen here: An energy-consuming cinder-block center.

Why it’s a winner: The rammed-earth, net-zero energy, LEED platinum–certified Gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve proves that sustainable doesn’t have to mean drab.

Best education program

Photo by Dave Lauridsen

Best education program

What didn’t happen here: Kids whose only exposure to nature is a glimpse of a tree in a video game. 

Why it’s a winner: The Wildlands Conservancy uses its Southern California nature preserves to introduce the outdoors to the Justin Bieber generation—25,000 kids annually, many of whom come from families at or below poverty level. Its size and emphasis on bringing nature to kids who otherwise wouldn’t experience it make the Wildlands Conservancy one of the most ambitious environmental-ed programs anywhere. And the kids’ reviews would do Yelp proud: “I learned many new things. First, we all went to pick one pretty rock that shines in the sun and we got to see animals. Thank you for everything.”

Take a look: You don’t have to be a kid to enjoy Wildlands’ preserves. One good one? Wind Wolves Preserve, in Kern County, 95,000 acres where the San Joaquin Valley meets the Transverse Ranges. Sat–Sun; free; wildlandsconservancy.org

Best addition to a National Park

Photo by David Fenton

Best addition to a National Park

What didn’t happen here: Homes and golf course on a bucolic California coast. 

Why it’s a winner: Newly added to Golden Gate National Recreation Area, 3,858-acre Rancho Corral de Tierra (parksconservancy.org) gives Bay Area residents coastal views in San Mateo County.  

Take a look: Access through McNee Ranch State Park near Montara.

Best wild kingdom

Photo by Audrey Hall

Best wild kingdom

What didn’t happen here: Vacation homes.

Why it’s a winner: There’s never been a bigger private conservation land purchase than the Montana Legacy Project, which is ensuring that one of the least spoiled places on the planet remains that way. When Plum Creek Timber Company decided to sell its 310,586 acres of land running southeast of Montana’s Glacier National Park, it was entirely possible the area would be purchased by developers as sites for ranchettes. But the Montana Legacy lands are havens for some of the rarest animals in North America. In fact, it’s believed this stretch of the Northern Rockies is one of the few places on Earth where no plant or animal species has gone extinct within the last two centuries. So, over roughly three years, two powerhouses—the Nature Conservancy and the Trust for Public Land—fought the battle to establish Montana Legacy, paying $490 million for the acreage. Money well spent.

Take a look: Hike to Holland Falls. From State 83, turn on Holland Lake Road and continue about 4 miles to the parking area. The 1.6-mile trail follows along Holland Lake, then climbs to the falls.

Best lake

Photo by Lonnie Peck / NV Energy

Best lake

What didn’t happen here: A shoreline jammed with houses, restaurants, and pubs. And motorboats.

Why it’s a winner: Independence Lake, a half-hour north of Tahoe in the High Sierra, was formerly owned by NV Energy and once used to produce hydropower. It has nothing on its shores except Jeffrey pines, red firs, and some picnic tables. The Nature Conser­vancy and the Truckee Donner Land Trust fought off a private buyer to purchase 2,325 lakeside acres for $15 million.

Take a look: Off State 89, 50 minutes north of Truckee; follow signs to Independence Lake. nature.org

Best ranchland

Best ranchland

What didn’t happen here: Nothing against Jackson Hole, but we don’t need two of them so close together.

Why it’s a winner: The 19,000 acres of the Sommers-Grindstone Conservation Project will remain undeveloped, keeping it as it was in the early 1900s. Neighboring properties along the Upper Green River in western Wyoming, Sommers Ranch and Grindstone Cattle Co. are almost as old as the state itself. When the current ranching generation realized they had to keep developers at bay, they joined forces with the Wyoming Stock Growers Land Trust. Together they created four conservation easements to keep the land in ranching and preserve valuable wildlife habitat. Costing $19.7 million and stretching nearly 30 square miles, Sommers-Grindstone is Wyoming’s biggest-ever open space project.

Take a ride: The best of Sommers-Grindstone is along the Green River west of Pinedale. The restored 1908 Sommers ranch house opens later this year. In Pinedale, stop at the Wind River Brewing Co. ($$) for food and suds, then hit Museum of the Mountain Man (opens May 1; $5; mmmuseum.com) for early-1800s history.

Best capital of green

Photo by Erin Kunkel

Best capital of green

What didn’t happen here: Logging, silty streams, and a denuded forest.

Why it’s a winner: Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is home to two Environmental Award winners, thanks to regional land trusts preserving and restoring former logging lands—so you’ll experi­ence lush green forests instead of miles of stumps. Honors for best river preservation project go to the Hoh River Trust  (hohrivertrust.org), which, for $12 million, acquired 7,000 acres along the Hoh River (pictured here), which runs from Olympic National Park to the Pacific. Not far away, Elk Creek Conservation Area’s 255 acres were saved by the North Olympic Land Trust (nolt.org). Amenities include a hiking trail and a Survivor-worthy 65-foot-long log bridge over the creek.

Take a look: Hoh River: Preserve lands lie off Upper Hoh Rd. Elk Creek: 1.9 miles east of Forks on Calawah Way.

Hero: Lifetime achievement

Photo by David Fenton

Hero: Lifetime achievement

As president of Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), Audrey Rust fought to keep the wild in the Silicon Valley and its adjacent mountains and coastline. She believes in the motto, “If it hasn’t been paved, it can still be saved.” Proof? In the land of Facebook and Apple, POST has saved 72,500 acres of redwoods, ranchlands, and coast—including Rancho Corral de Tierra. Here are her tips for preserving your local green spaces.

1 | Get out and experience nature with friends, and do it regularly. To that end, Rust started the weekly Hooky Players Half Day Hiking Club.

2 | Call a local nonprofit conservation group or regional park district to see how you can help. Some might need volunteers to lead hikes; other might want help removing invasive plants.

3 | Even 50 bucks can help. “Every gift counts, regardless of size, and for every conservation organization, the number of supporters is important,” Rust says.

4 | Know that there’s strength in numbers. “Joining others to preserve land makes sense because it is expensive, time-consuming work. Most people don’t have the millions of dollars necessary to do it alone.”

Hero: 40 & under

Hero: 40 & under

Scott Fisher’s résumé is guaranteed to make the rest of us feel like wimps: Marine veteran of Desert Storm; Ph.D. in peace studies; fluent in Hawaiian. And director of conservation for the Hawaiian Islands Land Trust (hilt.org), which has saved 17,000 acres of tropical paradise—including the preservation of Waihe‘e, on Maui’s North Shore, which was slated to be a golf course.

How do you get the iGeneration interested in helping? 

Just watching children who we bring out to Waihe‘e to build native taro patches—they were thrilled with their hands in the mud. And this was not a video game or TV. Kids are still kids and have a longing to connect with the natural world, and that is a human longing. That’s what we need to cultivate.

What can somebody do to help save land besides donate money? 

On Maui in particular, the Pacific Whale Foundation (pacificwhale.org) has a volunteers-on-vacation program, and Hawaiian Islands Land Trust offers free hikes. In general, research the history of the community by reading old newspapers and talking to elders (or kupuna). It can transform the way you see the land by learning how others related to it before you.

3 most endangered lands in the West

Photo by Rob Thomas

3 most endangered lands in the West

Save them now or they are gone forever:

Mojave Desert, CA. Two goods collide: Will large-scale solar power projects displace the rare desert wildlife? nature.org

North Shore, Oahu, HI. At the end of 2011, 27 percent of the North Shore—much of it agricultural lands perched above the Pacific— was up for sale. Will these be developed or stay green? tpl.org/sunset

Telluride and Crested Butte, CO (pictured). Second-home growth and rural sprawl threaten to spoil these mountain towns’ rugged backdrop.tpl.org/sunset

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