San Juan Island’s Mount Grant is next target for organizations that saved Turtleback.
SAN JUAN ISLAND — Approached on a winding road that leads from Friday Harbor, squat Mount Grant is cloaked under a canopy of old-growth trees, shrouding it from islanders who live on the pastoral lands at its feet.
Virtually unbeknown to neighbors, it has long held one of the island’s great secrets: the 740-foot ridge’s spectacular views, taking in postcard vistas of surrounding islands, the Olympic Mountains, Mount Baker, the Twin Sisters — and, on a clear day, Mount Rainier and Glacier Peak.
Its base looks like the back nine from a country club — a sweeping, verdant, humped landscape with pond.
Mount Grant has the potential to be the Mount Constitution of San Juan Island, said San Juan Preservation Trust executive director Tim Seifert, referring to the famed viewpoint on neighboring Orcas Island.
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Earlier this year, Seifert’s organization partnered with the San Juan County Land Bank to buy Mount Grant — a 141-acre property priced at $3 million — to fend off a proposed housing development and preserve the viewpoint for hiking, mountain biking and horseback riding.
Another million needed
The Preservation Trust is a private, conservation-oriented nonprofit and the Land Bank is a voter-created agency funded by a local real-estate excise tax. The two organizations were behind the high-profile 2006 conservation purchase for $18.5 million of Turtleback Mountain on Orcas Island.
Mount Grant is a similar project but on a smaller scale, and officials of both organizations say they are confident they can raise a remaining $1 million by next summer to pay off a loan to preserve Mount Grant as they did Turtleback. (If the organizations fall short of that goal and default on the loan, the property goes back to the seller, Lawson Ridge Development.)
The public got its first look last March when the access-road gate was opened to allow caravans of locals to drive to the top.
“The response was universal,” said Seifert. “ ‘Wow,’ was always the first word followed by ‘I never knew this was here.’ It’s rare that you could drive up to a place with this beautiful of a view.”
Visitors may currently use the one-mile road up Mount Grant and take in the panoramic view by strolling along the ridge’s perimeter. You can follow a back road down for a 2- to 2.5-mile loop hike of moderate difficulty.
Officials plan to create up to 5 miles of multipurpose trails to meander along the eastern slope with lookouts down to San Juan Island’s Trout Lake and across toward Mount Baker.
Located between Mount Dallas and Cady Mountain, the private property has potential for expansion. The Preservation Trust aspires to buy hundreds of surrounding acres, and the Land Bank owns 40 acres west of Mount Grant to which it might link trails in the future.
Drive or hike
Since the road to the top is already in place — a remnant of when it was planned for housing — families with children or anyone of limited mobility may drive instead of hike up for a quick look around or photo opportunity, said Lincoln Bormann, director of the San Juan County Land Bank.
It makes for a convenient side trip from two popular nearby attractions: Krystal Acres Alpaca Farm and San Juan Island National Historical Park’s English Camp.
Among listed priorities for recreation development is paving a wheelchair-accessible path at the summit, adding guard rails and smoothing the rocky surface with gravel. A picnic area is also in the works.
Naturalists and scientists are excited about the project because more than 50 species of wildlife, including three dozen different birds, have been identified in the area. Bald eagles perch atop the towering Douglas firs, hollow trees serve as bat shelters, and nighthawks and peregrine falcons forage on the mountain.
A University of Washington doctoral student is leading bat-survey outings, and a biologist from the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife is researching whether the elusive sharp-tailed snake, found on Canada’s neighboring Gulf Islands, lurks under the roots of the mountain’s evergreens.
“The treasure of Mount Grant is its size and that it’s untouched. People have not gone in and done extensive logging and clearing,” said Ruth Milner, a state Fish & Wildlife biologist. “A big, healthy tree is a rare commodity.”
Visitors who got a first peek at Mount Grant last spring said the tapestry of wildflowers were spectacular from March through May.
On its lower flanks is dense forest of Douglas firs and Garry oaks, brightened with fawn lilies. A half-mile up, the space opens with more natural light and the landscape transitions to mossy, rocky balds carpeted with great camas, Henderson’s shooting stars and chocolate lilies, said Doug McCutchen, land steward for the Land Bank.
If you go
When to visit
A paved, gated road to the top of Mount Grant on San Juan Island is available for pedestrian and nonmotorized use Monday-Saturday. You may drive to the top only on select Sundays when the gate is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., including the following dates: Nov. 28, Dec 25-26, Jan. 1, Feb 14-15 and March 26-27. Plans are for the gate to be open on a more-consistent basis starting in April 2016.
Mount Grant is five miles west of Friday Harbor. From Friday Harbor, take Guard Street, which becomes Beaverton Valley Road, which becomes West Valley Road. At about 5 miles, look for a “Save Mount Grant” sign on the left. Turn left and drive ahead to parking.
Take Washington State Ferries from Anacortes to Friday Harbor. Ferry reservations highly recommended: wsdot.wa.gov/ferries.