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Tuesday, November 14, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Conservationists buy Turtleback Mountain; hikers can visit soon

Seattle Times staff reporter

Turtleback Mountain will remain undeveloped and become open to hiking as conservation groups have successfully raised the $18.5 million necessary to buy the Orcas Island landmark from the Seattle-based Medina Foundation.

"Turtleback Mountain will be a gift from our generation to those that will follow," said Tim Seifert, executive director of the San Juan Preservation Trust, one of three organizations involved in the deal, which closes Wednesday.

Although not the highest peak on Orcas Island, Turtleback turned into a symbol for maintaining the region's quality of life, eliciting passion from those not wanting to see luxury homes built on it. The fundraising effort drew more than 1,500 donors.

The San Juan County Land Bank, which contributed $10 million via a bond sale, will manage the property. Lincoln Bormann, land-bank director, said public access will be via existing logging roads until hiking trails are built, with the property opening in about two weeks.

Of the $18.5 million raised, $17 million is to purchase the land and the rest is for building trails and maintenance.

The Trust for Public Land, a national group, also helped in the fundraising. While residential and private-resort developers expressed interest in Turtleback, the Medina Foundation agreed to sell to the conservation groups at a lower price.

When he was Weyerhaeuser CEO, Norton Clapp began assembling Turtleback's 1,578 acres in the 1950s as a private retreat and, upon his death in 1995, bequeathed the land to the foundation.

Medina put the property up for sale in August 2005 to raise money for its philanthropic mission of alleviating poverty and improving education. The Turtleback sale will push its endowment to $104 million, said Tricia McKay, Medina's executive director.

"This is the ideal outcome," she said. "People in the Pacific Northwest have a treasure they can have access to, and more money can be invested in the community to address issues related to poverty."

Stuart Eskenazi: 206-464-2293

or seskenazi@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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