Skagit Land Trust logo

Conserving wildlife habitat, agricultural and forest lands, scenic open space, wetlands, and shorelines for the benefit of our community and as a legacy for future generations.

Tope Ryan Property

Property Description

The Tope Ryan Conservation Area property protects 16 acres of former agricultural land including 900 feet of shoreline along the Samish River north of Burlington. The property also contains native riparian forest and several acres of pasture. This is a great property for wildflowers and bird watching. It was donated to Skagit Land Trust in June of 1996.

Tope Ryan

Tope Ryan Conservation Area protect a mosaic of wetlands, streams, woodlands and pasture which provide habitat for a wide variety of fish and wildlife and a quiet setting for people. Photograph credit: Skagit Land Trust staff.

Conservation History

Tope Ryan is located within a rural area composed of homes, farms, and forestland. The Samish River runs along the west side of the property and the property is within the Samish floodplain. The Samish Ochs Conservation Area and the Koetje Conservation Area are to the northeast, also along the Samish River, and the Butler Creek Conservation Area is to the southwest, also in the Samish watershed. Anderson Mountain lies directly to the north.

The land was acquired in a two-stage donation in 1995 and 1996. The Tope Ryan Conservation Area was originally donated and accepted by Skagit Land Trust in order to preserve the mosaic of open field, riparian and forest habitat at the confluence of Swede Creek and the Samish River.  Since the 1990s, the landscape on the property has changed dramatically.  Beavers have engineered a dynamic wetland with riparian coverage, ponds, and natural large woody debris.  The area is still a mosaic of habitat types with more wetland and less open fields, providing food and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife. The undeveloped lands at Tope Ryan Conservation Area help to improve water quality in the Samish River.


Originally dominated by pasture, the property is increasingly defined by wetland characteristics and channels running throughout, connecting Swede Creek, the unnamed creek, and the Samish River.  The former pasture area in the center of the property is now dominated by reed canary grass. The Samish River runs along the west side of the property.  The unnamed creek runs along the north side of the property into the Samish.  A peninsula juts from the north on the northwest area of the property, where the Samish and the unnamed creek join.  This peninsula is forested, primarily with hardwood species, and has been underplanted with conifers.  Another mature forested patch is located on the northeast side of the property.  Swede Creek runs into the Samish along the south edge of the property.  Some mature hardwoods grow along Swede Creek, but they are being chewed and flooded out by beaver activity.  Restoration plantings are doing very well in the southwest of the property.  Some have survived along the south edge to the east, where beaver activity turned a restoration planting area into a wetland.  More restoration plantings were installed just east of the northwest island and stream channels, with mixed success.  Most recently, in 2012, additional restoration plantings were installed north of Swede Creek and east of the Samish, expanding the planted area into the former pasture.

Tope Ryan is part of the Samish River floodplain and includes 900 feet along the Samish River. Large areas of the property are wetlands.  The open field in the central eastern portion of the property appears to be turning into a large pond, which will connect Swede Creek with the unnamed creek and the Samish River.  The water levels throughout the property fluctuate significantly, however, based on beaver activity and runoff.

Salmon and fish: The following salmon populations have been documented (Salmonscape) as present in the adjacent stretch of the Samish River or in Swede Creek:

Fall Chinook - spawning

Coho - rearing and spawning

Fall Chum - spawning and documented presence on Swede

Winter Steelhead - spawning and documented presence on Swede

Good salmon habitat features a non-hardened shoreline allowing for the natural meander of the river channel; a mixed stand of coniferous and deciduous vegetation, which provides cooling shade in the summer, stabilizes the soil to reduce sedimentation, and eventually serves as a source of large-woody debris for the channel.  All of these features are present at this property, although we have to make efforts to protect the riparian conifer and deciduous species from the beavers.

The riparian zone along the Samish and creeks at Tope Ryan is primarily populated with maturing deciduous species such as big leaf maple and cottonwood, in addition to numerous smaller trees and shrubs such as willow, alder, and salmonberry.  Many of the larger trees are currently damaged or dead due to flooding and beaver damage.  A few mature and young conifers are distributed throughout.


On January 31st, 2002, the Trust entered 13.3 acres of agricultural land surrounding the Samish River and Swede Creek into the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) administered by the Skagit County office of the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency. The acreage enrolled was reduced to 8.3 after some land was flooded and determined ineligible for continuing CREP payments in 2007. The goal of the CREP project at Tope Ryan is to improve the quality of the property's riparian vegetation for habitat and ecological purposes. . The contact (reference number 0033) continues for 14 years and 8 months (until September 31st, 2016). The Trust is currently paid $1,804 each year. Actions reducing the conservation value of the enrolled acreage are not allowed and restoration projects must be kept intact during the length of the contract. If the Trust fails to preserve the characteristics that the CREP contract is meant to protect through the length of the contract, then the Trust may be responsible for returning rental payments previously made on the property. Refer to Appendix C for the up to date CREP map.

Keeping the riparian area intact along the edge of the Samish also helps improve water quality in a watershed that currently has many issues.  In 2009, large woody debris (LWD) appeared after a flood event, significantly improving channel complexity.  Swede Creek and the surrounding flooded area provide important habitat for amphibian reproduction, as well as beavers and a variety of fish species.  Red legged frog and Northwestern salamander egg masses have been located in the streams during March/April amphibian surveys in 2012.  These areas and the riparian habitat along them have excellent complexity and diversity, increased by beaver activities.  The riparian habitat is inhabited by a great variety of songbirds, small mammals, and amphibians. It captures sediment and provides a visual barrier between Gripp Road, surrounding fields and the open water, providing cover for deer, songbirds, and small mammals.  Raccoon prints have been spotted by the waters' edge.

The woodland on the northeast side of the property provides additional diverse and protected forest habitat for wildlife and will likely eventually become a riparian edge if the field continues flooding. It contains a greater diversity of plant species than habitats elsewhere on the property, including multiple ferns, mosses and lichens, native flowers, woody shrubs and a variety of tree species.  The peninsula on the north-west side of the property is less diverse than the woodland, but is still a healthy functioning riparian woodland with a varied ground layer, understory and canopy.

Community members participate in tree planting restoration project at Tope Ryan Conservation Area. Photograph credit: Skagit Land Trust staff.

Stewardship of this property is only possible through the hard work of volunteers. Above: Community members participate in tree planting restoration project at Tope Ryan Conservation Area. Photograph credit: Skagit Land Trust staff.

Stewardship of this property is only possible through the hard work of volunteers. In the fall of 2019, volunteers and Skagit Land Trust staff completed a thinning project in the forested parts of the property. Old plantings that had a high survival of trees had become overgrown. This prevented the native understory species to establish. Additionally, because the trees were overcrowded, there was high competition for resources which was beginning to threaten the health of these trees. With the help of forestry experts and volunteers, Skagit Land Trust was able to remove some these trees, allowing the remaining ones to flourish. 

   Removing some of the trees from the old, overcrowded plantings will promote a healthier forest overall. 

Click here to view information about the land stewards for this and other Skagit Land Trust properties. 


The Tope Ryan Conservation Area is located north of Sedro Woolley, just east of the intersection of Gripp Rd and Prairie Rd. There is a parking pullout with room for up to 5 cars on the south side of the property along Gripp Road.

Tope Ryan Conservation Area is open to the public, however much of the property is wetland and the terrain can be difficult due to deep channels. 

Click here for a link to Google Maps to the parking area at Tope Ryan Conservation Area.

Aerial map of Tope Ryan Conservation Area. Map created by Skagit Land Trust staff.

Click on the map above for a larger image. Map generated using 2017 NAIP aerial imagery.

How to Get There

From Mount Vernon take the I-5 Bow Hill exit #236 and go east on Bow Hill, continuing along it when it turns into Prairie Rd. Follow for about 3 miles.  Turn right onto Grip Road.  The property is the first driveway on the left, indicated by a Skagit Land Trust sign.

Property Info

  • Type: Trust-Owned
  • Location: Alger
  • Acreage: 16 acres
  • Date Added: 1996
  • Please visit this property!

Nearby Properties