BREMERTON — Walking the Rhododendron Preserve trail down the valley, you can see young coho salmon swimming in Lost Creek and Wildcat Creek, before they join up with an important salmon habitat, Chico Creek.
Chico Creek is one of the most productive salmon runs on the Kitsap Peninsula, according to the Suquamish Tribe, and the Tribe isn’t leaving any of the watershed’s protection up to chance.
The Mountaineers Foundation, owners of the preserve, recently partnered with the Suquamish Tribe to purchase and permanently protect an additional 70 acres of upland, forest habitat boarding the Chico Creek watershed. The purchase expands the preserve to 386 acres.
“This is an important step in handing off the watershed to the next generation,” Forsman said in an interview. “There is a strong, wild natural run of chum salmon in that creek. It’s a relatively healthy watershed, and we want to keep it that way.”
Leaders from the Tribe, the preserve, neighbor Ueland Tree Farm, Puget Sound Partnership and community members celebrated together Nov. 28, where Suquamish Chairman Leonard Forsman presented a $255,405 grant for the purchase. The Foundation raised $60,000 to close the option agreement with Ueland Tree Farm.
The Mountaineers Foundation negotiated the option to purchase the three parcels from Ueland Tree Farm when the tree farm donated 100 acres of conservation easement to the Foundation, according to a Suquamish news release.
Scott Eby, president of the Mountaineers Foundation Board, said they decided to buy some of those buffer properties. The purchase is the largest single addition to the preserve since its inception in 1915.
“This is a really big thing for us,” Eby said.
Eby said he had not worked with the Tribe previous to this partnership, and was moved by the blessing and singing provided by tribal members at the celebration.
The grant is funded through the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission, from the National Estuary Program. The Tribe identifies land around the Chico Creek watershed as its highest priority.