Rocky Creek Preserve Expands by 150 Acres

The land trust adds to its portfolio of protection.

Looking SW toward Rocky Bay and Case Inlet.
Looking SW toward Rocky Bay and Case Inlet. Anthony Gibbons

The Great Peninsula Conservancy has acquired 150 acres of land in the Rocky Creek area for long-term protection and conservation, one of the largest acquisitions in its history.

The new acreage will expand the existing 34-acre Rocky Creek Preserve downstream and around the adjacent estuary.

GPC plans to develop a system of walking trails on the property to aid monitoring and make the property accessible for recreation. Public access will likely be possible by the summer of 2022. The property will mostly be left as-is, although some non-native forest sections will be cleared and replaced, according to GPC Executive Director Nathan Daniel.

“It’s good for us to go in there and do some selective harvesting of the timber,” he said. “The money that we’ll receive off that will go right back into the property to buy new, different species that are native to this area. You can really do a lot to improve the quality of the habitat by using good forest management techniques.”

After the trail system is complete, GPC also intends to run tours and nature walks through the property, with a focus on giving underserved populations a chance to experience nature.

The 150 acres were purchased from an out-of-state property owner for $900,000. GPC began negotiating and securing funding about three years ago. The conservancy received roughly half the funding from Pierce County Conservation Futures, a program that offers grants to groups doing conservation work within the bounds of the county.

According to Daniel, the taxpayer-funded financial incentives encouraged GPC to prioritize acquisitions inside Pierce County. The remaining balance was supplied by the state Recreation and Conservation Board and private donors Max and Janet Laudeman.

The Rocky Creek area was a priority for GPC because of the creek’s importance as a salmon habitat, and the chance to put a large amount of ecologically significant shoreline into conservancy.

“Steelhead trout and chinook have been recorded in Rocky Creek by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. That just makes it all the more important. There’s very few individuals of those species left, and so in order to protect them, we really have to protect their habitat,” Daniel said.

The larger contiguous space supports wildlife in a different way than smaller parcels. Daniel noted the tendency of unwanted species to occupy “edge” spaces such as property boundaries and cleared areas near roads and power lines.

You have a lot more edge on a smaller parcel as compared to interior space. From a management perspective, it’s really nice to have a healthy, mature forest that’s shaded and has a lot of diversity in the interior,” he said.

Once initial restoration and trail construction is complete, GPC intends to allow the property to develop naturally. GPC members will visit periodically to make observations and ensure the property is not being damaged or abused by trespassers. The lack of barriers and observable property lines means GPC will depend on neighbors and the public to help keep the property pristine and undisturbed. “We’ve spoken with the neighbors in the Rocky Creek area, and we’ve had really good responses. They’re really good people, and I think they’re happy to know the land’s going to be protected,” Daniel said.

Norm McLoughlin of Vaughn told KP News he applauds GPC for purchasing the upstream properties. He has lived on Rocky Bay for 40 years and knows it well.

“When I first arrived, I was amazed at the number of salmon jumping in the bay –– it seemed like one every few minutes,” he said. “We could almost get them to jump into our rowboat.”

Decades later, McLoughlin volunteered as a stream monitor for the Pierce County Conservation District testing the east fork of Rocky Creek and Winter Creek.

“Over the years the runs have diminished significantly even though in 2002 there were over 2,000 chum recorded moving upstream,” he said. “The state and the conservancy are wise to take the opportunity to help restore the salmon runs in Rocky Creek.”

GPC is a private land trust that manages properties in Pierce, Kitsap and Mason counties. Acquisitions and conservation easements are funded through member donations and state and local grants. Other GPC-managed properties on the peninsula include Filucy Bay Preserve and Johnson South Sound Preserve.