South Whidbey Parks and Recreation Districts acquires 40 acres

— Created January 6, 2021 by Kacie Jo Voeller

By Kacie Jo Voeller

            Three years ago, Shelley Ackerman, a Whidbey Island resident, started the process of trying to keep 40 acres of land on south Whidbey from being sold for logging or other development. Ackerman brought the property to the attention of the South Whidbey Parks and Recreation District (SWPRD) and after months of grant applications and gaining community support, SWPRD announced its acquisition of the forest land from the Waterman family at the end of 2020.

            Jennifer Cox, a member of the board of commissioners for SWPRD, said the acquisition of the two parcels of land, which are located behind the elementary school on Maxwelton Road in Langley, shows the community’s dedication to conservation.

“I think it has really created an additional opportunity for us to continue to preserve land and dedicate it for outdoor recreation here on the south end,” she said. “This is a community that really appreciates its rural character and certainly wants to try and maintain that.

            “Then, coupled with that, the fact that it is adjacent to…the trails that are currently owned by the school district and being nearby to the high school, I think it creates some great opportunities for outdoor learning experiences, along with just another great space for our community to experience the outdoors of Whidbey Island,” she continued.

Doug Coutts, executive director for SWPRD, said the property provides a way to continue with the district’s plans for the future. 

“Our comprehensive plan talks about us building upon Community Park,” he said. “This (property) does not physically connect to Community Park, but it is basically a crosswalk away with the easement. It is close to our core parks system, [and] it is a natural area that is immediately adjacent to school district property that has trails all over it, so we could expand on that if that was the decision the board made.”

Ackerman, who started an active campaign to find a way to preserve the land, said she was excited to see everything finalized and see the efforts of a small group affect change in the community. 

“Starting small and even small efforts from others, they all add up to be something bigger,” she said.

            Cox said she was thankful to Ackerman and her group of volunteers for reaching out to SWPRD about preserving the property and for the patience of the owners of the parcels throughout the process.

“Without them bringing it to our attention, it may have gone on the open market,” she said. “The Watermans are tremendous stewards in this community and have gone to great lengths to protect land, which has been wonderful.” 

Coutts said the acquisition of the property included applying for two grants: the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program local parks grant, and a federal grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund. In addition, he said a local bond was approved by voters in 2019 to help support the purchase. Community awareness was raised through volunteer efforts along with multiple open houses in 2019 offering visuals of and details about the land.

“I would thank the community for their support of the bond issue and thank our volunteers for the work that they did to help us make this happen,” he said. “My final thank you would be to the Waterman family for their extreme patience in getting this to happen.”

Ackerman said although the process took longer than expected, she was glad to see the perseverance and patience of all involved parties.

“I think there was enough momentum and good news throughout the process that I never gave up,” she said.

            Cox said as of now, the board has not approved any official plans for the property. The grants used to help fund the purchase of the land include stipulations of what the land can be used for, which includes outdoor recreation purposes.

“As far as anything going forward, we are just pleased to have it within the park district now and we do not have any plans for it at this time,” she said. 

For more information on SWPRD, visit