On Friday afternoon, Forterra closed a transaction to secure more than 1,500 acres of the Port Gamble Forest from Pope Resources, completing the final puzzle piece of a decade-long project that has now conserved 4,000 acres for recreation, restoration, cultural heritage and habitat. Kitsap County will be the long-term owner.
This final phase of the project was fueled by donations from over 1,200 community members, as well as many local partners, foundations and champions, who came together to raise $3.5 million. Inspired by the community effort, matching grants were provided by Kitsap County ($200,000) and Washington State ($500,000) for a total of $4.0 million in this final phase of the project.
The Port Gamble Forest property includes 65 miles of trails where already more than 20,000 hikers, birders, mountain bikers, equestrians, cyclists and runners recreate each year. At the north end of the property is a future recreational area for mountain biking. The property will be added to the Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park.
“Saving this keystone place is a gift to our region. A gift to future generations. A gift to the ecosystems we all rely on,” said Michelle Connor, Forterra’s Executive Vice President. “And, it’s a place everyone can visit and enjoy—less than an hour from Seattle, and close to Tacoma, Olympia and Port Townsend.”
“As communities around Puget Sound continue to grow, the need for accessible open space is growing, too, as a vital component of our quality of life,” said Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder. “The scale of this project surpasses major parks in cities around the world. With 4,000 acres conserved, this park provides a refuge that will be enjoyed for many generations to come. On top of that, it helps a growing recreational economy.”
The successful conclusion of this acquisition will ensure public access to this vast green treasure, over six times the size of Seattle’s Discovery Park. The oldest, largest trees and the most sensitive areas on the property are now protected. The rest of the property, which has been managed for timber production for over 160 years, will move to restoration forestry over the next 25 years to introduce a more diverse range of trees, increasing the health and resiliency of the land for future generations.
The community prioritized securing the land and the most valuable ecological features of the property, while strategically allowing for one additional harvest to restore the property to native forest and bring the price within reach. Forterra has additionally retained a one-time option to purchase more trees on the property in the future, if sufficient resources can be raised. The land is of great cultural significance. For more than 1,400 years, the lands and waters of Port Gamble Bay have provided fundamental cultural, spiritual and subsistence resources to the PortGamble S’Klallam and Suquamish Tribes.
“I envision all the families from the Tribes that lived and gathered here since time immemorial, and how their ancient hand and footprints remain on this landscape,” said Suquamish Tribe Chairman Leonard Forsman. “This expanse of open space will sustain natural systems under threat and give our people the opportunity to harvest natural foods, traditional medicines and materials for our art and textile traditions.”
Lynn Shorn, a biker, hiker and community leader who lives near the Port Gamble Forest, was pivotal in supporting the community campaign to save the forest. She said, “This special place has allowed me, and so many others, to explore trails amongst trees, meadows, ponds and streams. Volunteers from all the community user groups shared the dream and Forterra led our successful effort to buy the land for the public and to build a sustainable Northwest forest. We are so grateful to Forterra and all the partners who came together with the community to make this dream come true to conserve this place where people can get lost and found again.”
Bears, coyotes, deer and birds such as the hairy woodpecker and red-breasted sapsucker live in the Port Gamble Forest, one of the largest lowland forests in the Hood Canal watershed. The forest is part of a critical watershed for Port Gamble Bay. Its marine ecosystem lays the foundation for healthy habitats for forage fish and salmon, as well as interconnected food chains throughout Port Gamble, Hood Canal and Central Puget Sound watersheds.
Jeromy Sullivan, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe Chairman, said, “Saving this land means that my children’s children and generations beyond will be able to practice the ways of our culture, harvesting from the surrounding waters, and continuing to act as stewards to the same forest, land, and sea that connects them to their ancestors.”
Support for this project included funding from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation granted through The Nature Conservancy to identify and protect Pacific Northwest lands that will provide resiliency in the face of climate change. Additionally, Kitsap County, Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, Suquamish Tribe, Great Peninsula Conservancy, North Kitsap Trails Association, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance West Sound Chapter, Kitsap Audubon Society, the State Department of Ecology and a coalition of 30 local and state agencies, businesses and community groups worked in partnership to help secure this vast expanse of land that will help sustain our region’s quality of life, environmental health and economic vitality.
Past Phases of the Project
In 2011, Forterra was asked by Kitsap County constituents and Tribes to negotiate on their behalf with Pope Resources to conserve up to 6,700 acres of land called the Kitsap Forest and Bay— including the Port Gamble Forest. This led to Kitsap County’s purchase of 535 forested acres and 1.5 miles of shoreline along Port Gamble Bay in early 2014, followed in quick succession at the end of that year by a 366-acre expansion of North Kitsap Heritage Park. Great Peninsula Conservancy championed the protection of 175 acres at Grover’s Creek Preserve in April 2015, protecting the headwaters to Miller Bay and providing further connections between trail routes in North Kitsap. In late December 2016, Forterra assisted the county in securing an additional 1,356 acres of the Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park, making it the largest county park in Kitsap County. Together, these acquisitions leveraged federal, state, tribal, and local funds—showcasing the broad support for protecting these lands for public use, sustainable timber management, trail corridors, and wildlife habitat.
Dedicated to regional sustainability in all its dimensions — environmental, social, and economic — Forterra secures urban, rural and wild places with a keystone part in our shared future. Using skills in community-building, negotiation, real estate, land stewardship, and policy advocacy, Forterra has over its 25+ year history been part of more than 400 separate land transactions. These have protected upward of 250,000 acres — from remote wildlands, to working farms and forests, to city parks, to urban property for affordable housing. More at Forterra.org.