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Purchase completed: Kitsap County acquires 535 acres of forestland, 1.5 miles from shoreline from Pope Resources

Kitsap County residents are now the owners of 535 acres of forestland and 1.5 miles of shoreline on Port Gamble Bay. Pope Resources President David Nunes and Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder signed the ownership transfer documents Feb. 12, finalizing the first acquisition of Pope’s North Kitsap land by the Kitsap Forest and Bay Project.   - Don Willott / Contributed
Kitsap County residents are now the owners of 535 acres of forestland and 1.5 miles of shoreline on Port Gamble Bay. Pope Resources President David Nunes and Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder signed the ownership transfer documents Feb. 12, finalizing the first acquisition of Pope’s North Kitsap land by the Kitsap Forest and Bay Project.
— image credit: Don Willott / Contributed

PORT GAMBLE — Kitsap County residents are now the owners of 535 acres of forestland and 1.5 miles of shoreline on Port Gamble Bay.

Pope Resources President David Nunes and Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder signed the ownership transfer documents Feb. 12, finalizing the first acquisition of Pope’s North Kitsap acreage by the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project.

The purchase price was $4.6 million and was funded by several sources: the National Coastal Wetlands Program, the state Department of Ecology, the state Wildlife and Recreation Program, the state Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, and private donors — and even an 11th-hour crowdsource appeal.

Next: Sandra Staples-Bortner, chairperson of the Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition, said the purchase of a portion of the 366-acre Park Expansion Block should close by the end of February.

Purchase of a portion of the 664-acre Divide Block should close by fall: 180 acres from Pope Resources and 40 acres from an adjacent landowner, with another 51 acres acquired from another landowner next year.

Staples-Bortner said the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe committed funds for acquisition of a portion of the Port Gamble Upland Block, which is 3,316 acres. The funds were paid to the Tribe by the Navy to offset the impacts on treaty fishing by construction of the second weapons-handling wharf. She said the uplands are important to the health of Port Gamble S’Klallam Bay because they contain creeks, springs, and “a huge aquifer.” She didn’t know when that acquisition would close.

No funds have been committed for the final block: the Hansville Block, 1,784 acres.

Acquisition of the 535 acres of forestland and 1.5 miles of shoreline purchased Feb. 12 was a priority for all partners in the Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition because it will remain undeveloped, protecting the bay and its watershed.

“It’s very significant ecologically, and to the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe culturally,” Staples-Bortner said. “It’s a really beautiful spot and a huge wintering spot for waterfowl. I’m delighted that we’re going to be able to see that forever.”

Staples-Bortner said Kitsap County will establish a stewardship committee to help care for the site, which is or will be open for public recreational use.

It’s the first change in ownership of the site since 1853, when William Talbot and Andrew Pope arrived at what the S’Klallam knew as Teekalet and established a timber and milling enterprise. Pope & Talbot’s mill operated for 142 years.

Pope Resources, a successor to Pope & Talbot, is selling its North Kitsap forestland so it can concentrate on developing Port Gamble village into a viable, year-round community. A master plan for the community’s development has been submitted to the county. Pope has also applied for permits to clean up the old mill site.

The Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition has been raising money since 2011 to acquire the land for public open space and recreational use. Pope Resources has allowed public access to its forestland and shorelines for many years, and the area is heavily used by bird watchers, equestrians, hikers, kayakers, and mountain bikers. Volunteers help maintain a vast trail network.

According to the coalition, the lands draw thousands of outdoor recreationists annually and contains one of the largest lowland forests in the Hood Canal watershed. Coalition members say conservation of these lands will link marine and freshwater habitats together for the protection of the entire watershed ecosystem.

The coalition’s principals are Kitsap County, Pope Resources, Port Gamble S'Klallam Tribe, and the Suquamish Tribe. Forterra, a land conservation organization, is the fundraising leader. The coalition is backed by 34 community partners — among them, government agencies, non-profits, and local legislators.

Coalition principals issued a statement Feb. 12 as the ink was drying on the ownership transfer documents.

Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder: “This acquisition has been years in the making and the beginning of a series of great things to come in 2014. We are lining up funding to protect additional lands from Kingston to Port Gamble as part of this preservation effort.”

Michelle Connor, Forterra’s executive vice president: “Conservation of these lands will help sustain the cultural heritage and health of our communities, the functioning of our environment and diversity of our economy. Moving the whole effort forward is a testament to the leadership of local residents, Kitsap County, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, the Suquamish Tribe, and the State of Washington.”

Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman: “The public purchase of the shoreline block at Port Gamble Bay is an accomplishment worth celebrating. The Suquamish Tribe is grateful that this critical marine habitat will be protected for time immemorial and help in efforts to protect the water quality of Port Gamble Bay.”

Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe Chairman Jeromy Sullivan: “One of my Tribe’s ongoing priorities is to ensure that Port Gamble Bay remains productive and healthy for future generations. The conservation of this property furthers that goal by protecting water quality, preventing development, and limiting storm water runoff and other associated impacts.”

Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of Great Peninsula Conservancy and coalition chairwoman: “The many community partners involved in the Kitsap Forest & Bay Coalition have dedicated countless hours to help achieve this historic land purchase — handing out trail maps, speaking to community groups and marching in parades. And when it came down to the wire, the coalition raised over $10,000 in three days to fill the final funding gap.”

Jon Rose, president of Olympic Property Group, Pope Resources’ real estate subsidiary: “We are proud to be working with the community to protect these forests, beaches and trails for future generations. This purchase is a prize that has been earned through nearly a decade of dedicated efforts by the local community.”

Maia Bellon, director of the state Department of Ecology: “Restoring and sustaining the ecological systems that support Port Gamble Bay is critical for Hood Canal, Puget Sound, and all of us who call Washington home.”

 

 

 

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