A shoreline summer camp, the former site of an iconic lighthouse, a working sheep farm and over 1,000 feet of mainstem Minter Creek are among seven properties that two local land trusts worked to conserve in 2022. Of the 323 total protected acres, 59 were acquired outright as nature preserves while the remaining 264 are new conservation easements on land that will remain privately held.
Unlike many communities in the West that back up against vast tracts of public land offering recreation and wildlife habitat, the Key Peninsula has traditionally relied on private landowners to protect and steward trees, shoreline and other habitats. As the population continues to grow and vacant land becomes desirable, local land trusts are increasingly focusing their efforts on the KP.
Conservation remains piecemeal, and of the peninsula’s roughly 38,000 acres, less than 4% is park or preserve.
Just north of Devil’s Head, Sound View Camp highlights the new easements. A retreat center and youth camp owned by the Olympia Presbytery, the 93-acre property has “a rare set of shoreline features important for salmon habitat including a barrier lagoon, saltmarsh, and a bluff-backed beach with intact forest along the bluff,” according to Jeanette Dorner, executive director of the Nisqually Land Trust.
In recent years the camp has placed increasing focus on environmental education in alignment with its concept of “creation care.” It now hosts fall and spring classroom groups as well as Christian summer camps.
Pam Anderson, board chair of Sound View Camp, said, “One of the tenets of Christianity and many other religions too, including spiritual practices of Indigenous people, has to do with our role as stewards of the Earth. When I say creation care, that’s what I mean. We’re put on Earth not just to control it and exploit it but to tend it and care for it for future generations.”
Conservation easements create restrictions on land use that stay with a property in perpetuity. They are enacted by the landowner and can be fully customized. In many cases, through an intensive appraisal process, the landowner is compensated through conservation grants for the value they are relinquishing, usually development and timber value.
In the case of Sound View Camp, the easement defines a maximum protection zone where future building is strictly prohibited and a minimum protection zone where the camp can continue to evolve its footprint with limitations designed to protect the environment. Nisqually Land Trust coordinated the grants, a mix of state and county funds earmarked for species and habitat recovery.
Dorner said Nisqually Land Trust was motivated to pursue the project despite considerable funding hurdles because the camp abuts the 14,000-acre Nisqually Reach Aquatic Reserve and offers sheltered habitat for juvenile chinook salmon that migrate out of the Nisqually River, one of the runs in Puget Sound listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
A little farther north on Carr Inlet is McDermott Point, the iconic southern boundary of Filucy Bay, where an ornamental lighthouse stood for decades. Boasting 1,400 feet of natural shoreline and a barrier beach, the point supports forage fish like sand lance and surf smelt, food sources for migrating chinook.
The property will be known as McDermott Point Preserve. A land access easement does not exist. Visitors must arrive by boat.
Great Peninsula Conservancy purchased the 12-acre property with private donations and a grant from Pierce County Conservation Futures, a program enacted in 1991 to counterbalance development with a fund to conserve working forestland, farms, parks, wildlife habitat and open space. Funded by a property tax, it is currently the most significant funding source for KP conservation projects. In 2021 the levy was about 3.55 cents per $1,000 assessed value.
Ali Querin, conservation project manager for GPC, said that the peninsula has become a priority area for the member-driven organization, whose work also covers the Kitsap and Gig Harbor peninsulas as well as part of Mason County. “I think we’re just ahead of development. The community on the Key Peninsula is working to keep Key Pen feeling the way it is, to have natural spaces and stay rural.”
Several acquisitions in 2022 build on larger GPC preserves. At the north end of Filucy Bay, in the last two years about 60 acres have been added to Filucy Bay Preserve. This year two parcels totaling 2.6 acres were donated, extending the preserve’s shoreline by 200 feet.
Most conservation grants require a match, and GPC used the donation as a match for a state Recreation and Conservation Office grant that allowed it to add 8 acres and another 200 feet of shoreline to the preserve, which now totals 120 acres.
On the east fork of Rocky Creek, GPC purchased 5 acres that bridge Rocky Creek Preserve’s 150-acre core to a 35-acre parcel purchased in 2019, forming continuous habitat that spans several branches of Rocky Creek.
Querin said that while salmon and shorelines remain the dominant priority for conservationists and funders throughout the region, for GPC the last year has been marked by a new ability to look upland at conserving different types of forest, particularly around its core preserves. Forests are seen as increasingly important for healthy communities and climate resilience, and grant funding is following.
A 22-acre parcel of young upland forest off 88th Street SW was donated to GPC this fall. The parcel, to be known as Pentheroudakis Preserve in honor of donor Joseph Pentheroudakis (a frequent contributor to KP News), sits adjacent to Johnson South Sound Preserve. It contains 1,500 feet of seasonal stream, and while much of the property was logged a few decades ago, the stream buffer contains big trees and wetland plants like skunk cabbage. Letting the younger upland trees grow undisturbed, according to Querin, will ensure that the creek’s freshwater will be clean when it flows into the preserve’s lagoon.
For all the acquisitions, 2022 may go down as the year of the conservation easement.
In addition to Sound View Camp, a major conservation easement was finalized for Kaukiki Farm. The easement, which has been in the works since 2018, protects 150 acres of farmland and forest and is written to ensure the land can be used for the production of food and fiber forever while releasing development pressure. In addition to fields and sheep pasture, the acreage includes more than half a mile of Taylor Bay Creek and 1,000 feet of estuary shoreline and tidal marsh adjacent to Taylor Bay Park.
Warwick Bryant, who owns and operates Kaukiki Farm with his wife Janice, said, “We are thrilled to preserve a portion of our Key Peninsula’s agricultural legacy and hope it inspires others to realize there are options other than growth.”
Funding for the easement came from Pierce County Conservation Futures as well as a Farmland Preservation Grant from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.
Finally, GPC arranged a conservation easement for a private landowner on the main stem of Minter Creek. The 22-acre parcel includes intact forest and wetlands around the peninsula’s largest salmon-bearing creek. The easement prohibits subdivision, home-building and timber harvest. The owners have stewarded the land for decades and, according to Querin, were motivated by wanting to be sure that when they are finished owning it, the land and its habitat will remain protected.
Key Peninsula News was unable to confirm the total acreage of conservation easements in place on the peninsula. A tabulation of current parks and preserves totals 1,458 acres, a quarter of which is owned by Key Pen Parks and a quarter by GPC. The state parks, including the Haley property, account for 40%, while the county owns the 93 acres of Devil’s Head Preserve.
This accounting does not include 360 Trails Park or Key Central Forest, both of which are owned by the Department of Natural Resources with trail access provided through 50-year leases to Key Pen Parks. Both are managed as revenue-generating timberlands.
Two tax designations in particular signal landowners who may have prioritized conservation. Land categorized as Designated Forest Land is managed for timber revenue but has flexibility to incorporate conservation. Land categorized as Open Space receives a tax break commensurate with the value of the habitat it preserves. Land may be converted out of both designations.
While exact statistics are hard to come by, private land remains the lynchpin of conservation of the Key Peninsula’s natural world.
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