We are Bob and Meg Connor, the owners of the Gnome House, Maggie�s Manor, and an awe-inspiring 140 acre paradise on Orcas Island, in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. We consider ourselves blessed to have been able to live in beautiful, sunny Deer Harbor on Orcas Island, for 36 years so far.
Here is our story.
In 1974, just before the first of our three sons was born, we chose to change our life dramatically. We were living in an apartment house, with a postage stamp lawn, involved in numerous businesses taking our energies; it became our #1 goal to change our lifestyle to be more compatible with our family values. We both wanted our children to grow up in an environment similar to Bob�s childhood in Poulsbo, Washington, reveling in and thriving because of a rural, simple, old-fashioned, family-oriented lifestyle.
It is true that the Puget Sound area is known for its rainfall, but Bob knew about the areas with less rain and more sunshine. After searching for our perfect property in the Pacific Northwest, we discovered the wonderful San Juan Islands, located in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains. We sold all of our Seattle businesses, bought 150 acres, and promptly moved to an island. This was over 36 years ago, and our delight in our property is stronger than ever. We love everything about it. We know that still today, there are few who comprehend the enormous ecological value and the boundless diverse beauty of the jewel that we steward.
When we purchased our property in 1974, we had money for a down payment and enough for a starter house, and no jobs. Undaunted, we move to Orcas Island, with our 10 month old son. In 1975, we started a sawmill and construction yard with two other Orcas Islanders on the NW corner of our property, and started to thin Douglas Fir tree stands in order to finish our house and help neighbors build theirs. When we started, there was neither power nor phone within a quarter mile and no houses for half a mile in all directions. Although the population of Orcas Island has increased from 2600 year-round residents in 1975 to 4300 year round residents in 2007, the idyllic lifestyle and natural beauty of Orcas Island has really not changed very much.
In 1977, when my mother moved up here to help us with our farm and enjoy our growing family, a great friend of ours to whom we offered an individual homesteading opportunity, and I started a shared � acre organic subsistence garden, our first very early farming venture. The garden and neighboring field would grow to become a gathering place for the families of Deer Harbor who were of like mind and circumstance. Hardly a weekend went by that there was not a ball game or campfire/potluck. After my mother passed away in 1996 we named it Grandma�s Garden and offered the bounty to those involved in elder care. This was rural living as I knew it from childhood.
In 1978, our second son was born, and in 1982, our third son was born�and now we were five. All three of our boys reveled in the rural island life, with endless outdoor creative adventures, sports, and just good �clean� fun all of the time. To this day, they love the outdoors, enjoying hiking, skiing, camping, mountain climbing, etc. The Orcas Island School was and continues to be a very good one, preparing students well for college. During their school years, all three of our sons were very active in all sorts of activities, especially sports. Bob was baseball coach for 15+ years, and both of us attending every game that our boys were in, either coaching, score-keeping, or cheering our voices hoarse. Our sons still love to visit Orcas Island often, and are now sharing their childhood lifestyle with their own families. We have an 8 year old grand-daughter, a 4 year old grandson, a 4 year old grand-daughter and grand baby #4, a grand-daughter arrived on May 18th, 2012. How thankful we are that all 3 of our sons, their wives, and their children all live in the Pacific Northwest, just a couple of hours from us!
Our Land and Its�Development�
Because we were absolutely dedicated to rural living, including agriculture, we applied for the designation of Agriculture Open Space on a large portion of our farm. The San Juan County Land Bank worked with us to establish wetland delineations and vegetation management plans for wildlife. We stalwartly persisted in the maintenance of a large segment of the property for agricultural use. Today we harvest mainly wild beyond organic berries and fruit. We knew at an early point in our ownership of this land that diverse use was the only sustainable solution and practical model for land use on what has now become a most unlikely area for agriculture because of desirable Orcas Island�s exceptionally high costs per acre compared with other areas of Washington. We have always combined farm, residential, education, eco- and agro-tourism and other creative uses on our diverse 140 acres.
All 140 acres of our property here in Deer Harbor, is devoted to wildlife habitat preservation and enhancement. We dedicated (through an easement with the San Juan County Land Bank) about 80 acres to preservation, vegetation management for wildlife habitat and farming, and continued maintenance of our open meadows and rocky outcroppings. �The property as described in this Conservation Easement is an important ecological area containing salt and freshwater wetlands, open grassy areas, hedgerows and woodlands. This mosaic of habitats has combined to create nearly ideal wildlife habitat and offers outstanding scenic qualities that can be enjoyed by the general public from the County roads. It is the intent of this management plan to augment the Property owners� excellent stewardship by providing a blueprint for maintaining these values, in perpetuity, through a regular program that combines control of successional vegetative growth with selective plantings�.
For all you bird-watchers out there, we also donated an easement for the enhancement and enjoyment of wildfowl, in what is now known as the Frank Richardson Marsh. After we made the first donation of a wildfowl easement on that property, we have continued to document birds and have pictures of well over a hundred different species on our web site. . We knew how important this freshwater marsh was to the entire ecosystem of wildlife and human life in Deer Harbor. We were happy to name and dedicate the marsh to Frank who so passionately touted its value to all who would listen. To this day it is used for education and enjoyment by wildfowl enthusiasts from near and far.
Another of our passions has been spreading and sharing information, science, and love of preserving and studying the environment around us. Environmental education using living, working examples always increases the effectiveness of communicating our interconnected ecology. One only needs to take a brief tour of our property to become aware of the momentous interrelationships of the greatly diverse environmental features. Streams, forests, salt and fresh water marshes, the estuary, fields and ponds open to the bay and on to the world�s oceans. Most of the ecological systems of the San Juan Islands and much of the resources are represented. We have been fortunate to have an innumerable amount of networking and use of this environmental example. Pre-school, middle-school, high school, undergraduate and graduate programs, Universities from the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia Canada, visiting environmental professors and researchers from institutions from around the U.S. and Canada and from as far away as Australia, and Europe have visited and used this property even in its beginning stages of restoration.
Probably one of the most significantly beneficial developments in agriculture in our lifetime is the re-realization that the wild and minimally managed agriculture styles may be an answer to the wild/human transition areas of our entire planet. If we and Nature�s more wild inhabitants can thrive in harmony, we will have made an intelligent return to the past or perhaps go back into the future. The Bullock family was one of the homestead/brave purchasers of part of our property. Their brand of agriculture/permaculture and environmentally friendly lifestyle coupled with their abundant energy and gift of teaching is admired by people from all over the world. Every year is a new adventure in research, restoration and education through the permaculture seminars that happen in and around their property and encompasses all of ours as well.
Estuaries are called �nurseries of the sea�, as they are vital to the survival of many, many species of wildlife. There is an on-going enormous effort to restore the viability and vibrancy of the Deer Harbor Estuary, which is located on our property. To have helped in the restoration of runs of spawning salmon to �Fish Trap Creek� at the mouth of our estuary will be a dream come true! There are Federal and State agencies who have given large grants for the endeavors currently underway: silt-reducing plantings, bridge modifications to increase tidal flow, wildlife ponds, etc. On May 17th, 2008, this project will be showcased to the �world�.
1. 2003, Salmon Recovery Funding Board REED Barbeque Meg and I sponsored and members of the REED Project organized a Salmon Barbeque on our property to deliver a message about the status of the project. It was well attended. Sandy Wyllie-Echeverria, an environmental research professor at the University of Washington, brought visiting scientists from across the globe. We hope to have another one, perhaps this September.
2. 2005-2006, Donated use of 18� Greggor runabout for Scientific Research As an example of the shared equipment for stewardship projects idea, we offered the use of our runabout to several local marine scientists for two years running. This helped reduce the cost of the research which allowed for more extensive coverage.
3. 2005 to present, Wildlife Release Point Meg and I have admired the work of Wolf Hollow Wildlife Rehabilitation Center, and have offered our property as a release point for some wildlife species and some educational opportunities. We made a release in 2005.
4. 2007 Environmental Learning Center/Research Lab for Deer Harbor Several scientists, educators, and local environmental champions have been working on a proposal from a vision I have had for over 30 years. The proposal is forthcoming.
Stay tuned for exciting information soon.