Sandi Friel
San Juan County Conservation Land Bank, Chair


Can you share a little bit about yourself?

Looking to escape the Florida heat and crowds, my husband Bob and I vacationed on Orcas, and it was love at first sight. The slower pace, dramatic scenery and moderate climate were the initial draws, but we quickly found out it’s the community that makes this place special.

In 2003, we bought a fixer vacation home (sight unseen—still can’t believe that!) but found ourselves not wanting to wait decades until retirement to start enjoying island life full-time. We began plotting a major life change, and in 2006, we quit our jobs, put our home on the market, packed up our big hairy dog and drove cross-country. Best move ever!

My passion since moving here has been learning about native plants and the creatures that depend on them. My dream has been to turn our five acre property into a buzz of biodiversity. The pandemic gave me the first opportunity to spend a spring and summer creating outdoor spaces and planting areas, and this year I finally got to begin gardening in earnest. I’m hooked.

Despite growing up in suburbia, I’ve always had a fascination for the natural world and have had my share of adventures—from snorkeling with humpback whales, spelunking in caves filled with the skeletons of ancient human sacrifices, scuba diving with sharks and camping in a jaguar-filled jungle. And yet, these days I’m totally content just exploring our surrounding acreage, the island’s parks/preserves and an occasional road trip.

Tell us a little bit about the organization you volunteer at.

The San Juan County Conservation Land Bank was created by county voters more than 30 years ago to preserve special places in the islands. Some of our preserves on Orcas include Turtleback Mountain, Coffelt Farm, Crescent Beach, Judd Cove and the Coho Preserve. Funded by a one-time 1% real estate sales tax paid by the buyer when purchasing property, it’s an investment you can feel good about. It will next come up on the ballot in 2024.

The Land Bank is part of the county government and has a small staff guided by seven appointed commissioners who represent the people of San Juan County. We often partner with other organizations to accomplish big conservation projects, such as our most recent acquisition—the North Shore/Glenwood Inn property—conserved with the help of the San Juan Preservation Trust.

What does volunteering do for you?

Volunteering with the County’s Conservation Land Bank aligns with my values and has given me an insider look at the workings of local government. It’s something I hadn’t done before, so it’s been quite a learning experience. Being Chair of the Commission is a big commitment and a role that has stretched my leadership skills, and rising up to that has been both challenging and fulfilling. I can’t do much about the environmental degradation in the larger world, but I know I can make a difference right here at home. And that feels good.


Visit the San Juan County Conservation Land Bank to learn more. If you would like to get involved, learn about their volunteer opportunities.

If you would like to learn about other volunteer opportunities on Orcas, please email Ed. He would love to get together for tea/coffee to chat about your interests.