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First Forest & Bay purchase celebrated
PORT GAMBLE — Kitsap comes in a range of green, gold and blue stretched across its landscape; a landscape that sustains its community. It’s something that outdoor and wildlife enthusiast, and anyone who uses a well for water, aptly knows.
An effort waged by local partners aims to keep it that way.
“This is a celebration of many years coming to fruition,” County Commissioner Robert Gelder said. “It’s the first domino to fall into place.”
That first domino is the county’s $4.6 million purchase of 564 acres, including 1.5 miles of shoreline, bordering Port Gamble. The area is referred to, simply, as the Shoreline Block. It is just one piece of a much larger endeavor to conserve nearly 6,700 acres of land in North Kitsap, known as the Kitsap Forest & Bay Project.
On the afternoon of April 18, county and local officials led a tour through the first purchase for the conservation venture.
“It is broken down into five blocks,” Gelder said. He helped lead the tour on April 18. “There’s the Hansville Block; the Heritage Park Expansion Block to the east of North Kitsap Heritage Park; there’s what’s called the Divide Block which is south of Port Gamble Bay; you have the Shoreline Block which we’re touring today; and then the Port Gamble Block which is the largest portion of the overall acreage.”
Gelder spoke to a crowded minivan driven by Poulsbo Councilwoman Linda Berry-Maraist. The van held a small crew from Bremerton-Kitsap Access Television, press, and State Representative Drew Hansen.
Following behind were two other vehicles with more press, county staff, TV crews and State Senator Christine Rolfes.
Much of the blocks, such as the Shoreline portion toured that day, has been under the stewardship of Pope Resources, for logging purposes. Pope is now among a list of partners who are working to conserve the land, which also includes Kitsap County, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, the Suquamish Tribe, Forterra (a conservation organization), Great Peninsula Conservancy, and 30 local and state agencies, businesses and community groups.
The project is funded largely through grants; federal, state and other. Gelder said that the Shoreline Block fit the needs for many current grants because of its proximity to the shoreline and connection to Puget Sound, a body of water that many agencies are attempting to restore.
The properties themselves also offer a unique boost of supporting funds. Since the land was established for growing timber crops, trees were planted in close proximity to each other. But trees don’t often grow so closely side-by-side. To bring the forest into a more natural state, with a variety of vegetation, the trees will be thinned. The trees that are removed can be sold to produce non-tax sourced funds for the project.
The Shoreline Block leads into the surrounding uplands, and neighbors the Port Gamble Forest Block which, at 3,355 acres, is the largest area the project hopes to acquire.
“The land is laced with these logging roads,” said Berry-Maraist while driving on such a route.
“It’s a wonderful place to walk. You can walk side-by-side,” she said. “There are all these little skinny trails; there’s about 60 miles of trails through all the blocks.”
It’s not just hikers that will find the blocks of interest, Gelder noted.
“Why it’s important is probably different for everybody, for each individual,” Gelder said. “There are those for who it’s important because they love being outdoors and on the trails because they are hikers. There are those who are equestrian aficionados. The mountain bikers, too.”
A point pressed further as the tour soon passed two horseback riders, and a mountain biker out for an afternoon ride on some muddy trails.
“When you think about  acres and all the potential that it has as a park unto itself, then the capacity that we will hopefully add to the overall system within the next several months, it will be phenomenal,” Gelder said.
The project has many goals, including the encouragement of eco-recreation in North Kitsap as a viable business field, as well as to create a public network of trails on both land and water.
Gelder is quick to note the conservation effort goes beyond simply setting aside land to enjoy the outdoors. The region, and the five blocks, also serve a vital purpose for the local ecosystem.
“When you think about it, it’s not just about the trees and the trails, it’s also about the ecological function that this property offers to Port Gamble Bay, the Hood Canal and Puget Sound,” he said. “By preserving it, we are able to make a huge impact on water quality.”
“When you think about Kitsap, we are the Puget Sound lowlands,” Gelder added. “We don’t have mountains, we don’t have snow pack. What water falls here, and the water quality that we have, is everything to Puget Sound.”
It comes down to recharging the region’s aquifers; the underground wells that provide water to many communities. As development grows in the north end of the county, more and more impervious surfaces are added to the landscape, which in turn diverts water from the underground system. It makes preserving functions that the blocks serve that much more important.
“The soils are ideal for being able to infiltrate and replenish our ground water,” Gelder said. “What falls here is what we have. If we are able to restore some of the more shallow wells, it helps us a lot.”
With one block down, the project continues. The Heritage Park Expansion Block is expected to be acquired this April, if not soon thereafter. And then, three more blocks.
“If we’re successful with the larger goal … what we have is a huge regional draw,” Gelder said. “Not only for local quality of life, but as recreation for throughout the Puget Sound area.”