Orcas Island Historical Museum/contributed photo
Sutherland Farmhouse.

Orcas Island Historical Museum/contributed photo Sutherland Farmhouse.

Growing trees and a growing school

  • Sat Apr 24th, 2021 1:30am
  • Life

Submitted by Orcas Island Children’s House.

The Children’s House campus has many impressive trees. Situated on an orchard dating back to 1900, the farmhouse is surrounded by a massive elm, cherry, hazelnut, apple and pear trees believed to be planted by the Sutherlands, the home’s first inhabitants. Today these trees provide us with fruit, flowers, shade, and seasonal announcements — all part of a rich outdoor learning environment for children. To help us learn more about these heritage trees, Madrona Murphy from Khwiat’s San Juan Islands rediscovered fruit project came over from Lopez to inspect the trees. The goal of the project is to catalog, identify, map, and evaluate heritage and locally adapted fruit varieties in the San Juan Islands. As part of that work she took cuttings for grafting and she will return those to us for planting on our school grounds.

Along North Beach Road, a row of large old maples lines the public path. In recent years, we have witnessed a decline in the health of these trees. Arborist evaluations determined that a number of the maples are infected with the Kretzchmaria deusta fungus that causes a soft rot as the fungus consumes the cellulose and lignin in the tree. Sadly, infected trees do not recover and are prone to sudden collapse. You may see tree work and removal of some of the trees in front of Children’s House in the coming months. This will ensure the pathway is safe for all who use it.

Thirty years ago, a row of maples was planted just to the west of the path in preparation for this time. We are grateful to those stewards of this place that thought ahead to this day. We, too, are thinking ahead. We are working with Eastsound Planning and Review Committee and San Juan County Public Works on a plan for additional replacement trees. The new trees will stand watch for our grandchildren and greatgrandchildren the way the old maples stood watch for us.

Looking ahead, we have many reasons to be optimistic. Since re-opening in June of last year, the Children’s House preschool and toddler programs have operated out of the Infant and Toddler Center with limited capacity. The Farmhouse was just not equipped with the ventilation and extra handwashing sinks needed to host children safely during the pandemic. Thanks to a grant from All in Washington, GiveOrcas crowdfunding and an anonymous donor, we have added a ductless heat pump and ventilation, sinks and flooring. On April 5, we opened the Farmhouse to a new class of growing preschoolers!

Our community really came together to tackle a long to-do list. Special thanks to the parent volunteers and board members as well as Greg Smith, Loren Dickey, Justin Blevins, Pete Helsell, Conor Black, Pete Moe, and Dan Walker. All fit us in to their busy schedules to make this happen.