McDermott Point is KP’s Latest Conservation Project

The site of an iconic lighthouse that once greeted boaters entering Filucy Bay is poised for preservation.

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The Pierce County Council voted to adopt the recommendations of the Citizens Advisory Board to the Conservation Futures Program Aug. 31 to begin negotiating the purchase of conservation properties. McDermott Point ranked third out of six projects nominated in the biennial budget cycle. Available funding is projected to cover all six projects.

Comprising 12 acres, the McDermott Point property commands a sweeping view of Mount Rainier and Filucy Bay. The lighthouse no longer stands. The advisory board cited two reasons for ranking the property highly.

First, a salt marsh and barrier lagoon exist on the site. Though currently degraded, such habitat is important for a number of aquatic species, notably juvenile Chinook salmon. The project sponsor, Great Peninsula Conservancy, which will own the property, plans to pursue a full restoration of the barrier lagoon.

Conservation Director Erik Steffens said that out-migrating juvenile Chinook from the Nisqually River are known to frequent Filucy Bay, and Skagit River juvenile Chinook have been found as far south as Olympia. “They move around,” he said, making pockets of sheltered habitat around Puget Sound critical whether or not they abut a major salmon river.

Second, in a region where the vast majority of shoreline is privately held, the county places high priority on adding to the number of publicly accessible beaches. While McDermott Point is too small and habitat-sensitive to support land access, it will be added to the Cascadia Marine Trail and made accessible by water as a day-use-only site focused on non motorized boats such as kayaks. Nearby boat launches make the point an easy destination for paddlers.

Initiated in 1991, the Conservation Futures Program aims to preserve quality of life in a rapidly developing Pierce County by ensuring that the regional landscape will always include open space, shorelines, local farms and forests, according to its website. Nearly 6,000 acres have been conserved with 75% publicly accessible. The program cites community benefits come from preserving iconic local places — such as physical and mental health, recreation, economic drivers, education and quality of life. The effort is funded by a property tax of 4.44 cents per $1,000 of property value.

The top-ranked project this cycle is a section of North Creek in Gig Harbor. A culturally important site for the Puyallup Tribe, it includes intact forest and stream habitat and could be used by a variety of salmonid species following culvert removal. It will also provide a trail link between the Cushman Trail and downtown Gig Harbor near Donkey Creek Park.

The second-ranked project is a sizable 115-acre addition to Narrows Park in Gig Harbor. The remaining projects are in Puyallup, Parkland and Tacoma.

Beyond the Conservation Futures program, Great Peninsula Conservancy is working to make additions to two Key Peninsula preserves.

The land trust aims to add about 20 acres to the Filucy Bay Preserve. The preserve, currently just shy of 100 acres, flanks the bay’s north cove. The additional land would make it a continuous tract. Steffens said that its forest and a three-quarter-mile shoreline with estuary and feeder bluffs is another important habitat for juvenile salmon and one of the few places left in the Puget Sound where an entire cove can be conserved. Great Peninsula Conservancy plans to use state Estuary and Salmon Restoration Program funding for the acquisitions. The west side of the cove has access for kayakers with a nice picnic spot and two interpretive signs.

At the Rocky Creek Preserve north of Vaughn, the land trust wants to add 5 acres. Much of the 190-acre preserve there was purchased with Conservation Futures funds in 2020. That acquisition came in under budget and Great Peninsula Conservancy has requested permission from the county to use the excess grant funds to purchase the additional parcel, which includes 250 feet of the east fork of Rocky Creek and would complete the protection of the creek’s lower main stems.

Steffens said it would be a great addition, tying the area together.

He also said the Great Peninsula Conservancy is exploring opportunities for future additions on the west fork of Rocky Creek. The organization plans to use the Rocky Creek Preserve as a land laboratory for student environmental education as well as public recreation.