Protecting Land and Lineage
Located in Squalicum Valley, 20-minutes North-East of Bellingham between Stewart Mountain and Squalicum Mountain sits the idyllic 19 and-a-half-acre McWilliams Family Property. In 1902 the property was bought by current owner Nancy Kuehnoel’s great-grandfather, Walter J. McWilliams. He deeded the property over to his son, Nancy’s maternal grandfather Charles W. McWilliams in 1912. Charles married Elsie H. Geschke in 1915 settling on the property where Nancy’s mother and her two sisters grew up and Nancy’s grandparents lived until they passed.
Originally the property was mainly used as a hay pasture that was sold or fed to the few livestock the McWilliams owned. Nancy’s grandfather also grew corn for popcorn and garlic for a while to sell to the local grocery. Nancy describes how her grandparents had “a large vegetable garden, berries, and orchard for personal use.” Her Grandmother “canned the produce and they lived off the food for the winter.”
While Nancy did not grow up on the property, she has fond memories of visiting her grandparents as a child. She describes her experience as, “very peaceful and a visit to the property always included an afternoon walk to the pond and back.” The pond was originally dug out by her grandfather and she describes how he “tried his hand at raising frogs. He was unsuccessful and most of them migrated to Squalicum Lake!” Later when Nancy was studying home economics at Western Washington University, she would visit her grandparents about once a month. Her visits consisted of having “Gram’s fine home cooking!” adding that her friends she sometimes took along for a visit during college still talk about it. Memories like these create a portrayal of how the property is important to the memory and legacy of her family. Land can be a definitive part of someone’s childhood and their experiences growing up.
Nancy inherited the property from her father Marvin Kuehnoel in 1998. With the intent of protecting the land from future development and conserving the ecology, habitat, and aesthetic of this property, Nancy and her husband Mark Proulx agreed to donate a conservation easement to the Land Trust, extinguishing the three remaining development rights. The purpose of the easement is to give the Whatcom Land Trust nonpossessory access to the property in order to conserve and protect the health of the land. Landowners give up the rights to develop and subdivide the property, and in turn the land is protected and conserved by the Whatcom Land Trust in perpetuity.
Most of the property is open pastureland and forest, with wetlands along the northern boundary of the property. With a long history of being family owned this property is an example of how a place can be the foundation of cherished memories and experiences that are as important as conserving the land.