2021 July/August Newsletter

Letter from our president, Jeff Wirtz

Greetings to all our Foundation friends,

It’s hard to believe that we’re already heading into the second half of summer. As we wrap up August, planning is underway for several of our favorite fall events including our annual Fall for Fish fundraiser and Kitsap Salmon Tours. What makes planning so exciting this year is that both events will be in person! We’ve learned this past year that connecting people to the outdoors is important, but so is connecting with one another.

We’re especially looking forward to welcoming people back to the Preserve for Fall for Fish. We’re changing up the format and providing donors an opportunity to explore the restoration work underway in Hidden Valley and see where we’ll be building the new bridge and pavilion. If you don’t know the history of Hidden Valley, it’s the site of the historic Hidden Ranch homestead, originally owned by Edward Paschall and his family who sold the original 74 acres of the Preserve in 1915. Hidden Valley is closed to the public while we work on restoration in partnership with the Suquamish Tribe.

Also coming up next month is a dedication event with our newest partner, the Old-Growth Forest Network. The Rhododendron Preserve will be inducted into this national network on September 25th and everyone is welcome to join.
Scroll down to our “More to Explore” section for save-the-date information for all three events. We hope to see you at one soon!

Stay healthy and well,

— Jeff Wirtz
President, Keta Legacy Foundation,
also known as Mountaineers Foundation


A tale of two rhododendrons and what they tell us about healthy ecosystems

Close up of a rhododendron with the bottom half of its leaves drooping and beginning to curl.
Rhododendron in Hidden Valley.
Close up of rhododendron near the base of an old growth tree with sunlight showing through mossy branches. The leaves of the rhododendron are bright and full.
Rhododendron among old growth forest.

Natural systems have a lot to teach us about conservation, recycling, and interrelatedness. You’ve probably noticed how much watering it takes to keep your outdoor plants healthy when there’s no rain. And maybe you’ve wondered how the plants in a forest survive without anyone to take care of them? A pair of rhododendrons growing in different parts of the Preserve will explain.

The first rhododendron is growing in the Hidden Valley section of the Preserve. The second is growing on the edge of the old growth part of the Preserve. Notice that the first rhododendron has its lower leaves drooping and other leaves beginning to look curled. Meanwhile, the second rhododendron’s leaves are firm and fully extended. As the crow flies, these two rhododendrons aren’t very far apart and they’re each growing in proximity to a creek. So why do they look different?

The difference is the health of the ecological system where each is growing. The first rhododendron is growing in an area heavily impacted by humans; a homestead which was occupied until the early 2000s. It’s growing where people have removed the big trees to let in more light to encourage crop growth and have discouraged new trees from growing up and shading out the human-desired plants. Without human intervention, the plants in this area need to employ all their survival adaptations.

The second rhododendron is growing in a nearly undisturbed ecological system where there has been minimal human impact. It’s growing where the system is healthy and not dependent on human intervention.

When water is scarce, plants have the ability to pull water from their leaves and let the leaves droop. Doing this conserves water in the roots and stem until the rain comes again. The rhododendron in Hidden Valley is starting to conserve water this way, while the one near the old growth part of the Preserve doesn’t yet need to take the same measures. Trees, as they breathe, release water vapor. This means where there are more trees, there is more water available to the other plants. In addition, in the healthy ecosystem, the forest canopy keeps too much sun from getting in and heating the air, this slows evaporation. It’s both cooler and moister in the forest, especially in an old growth forest.

When we understand how a healthy ecosystem works, we can make better choices. Rather than cutting down big trees, people can learn to work with – and benefit from – them. Doing so reduces spending on cooling houses and watering plants.

— Katha Miller-Winder
Education Committee Chair


Whale People: Protectors of the Sea exhibit showcases the deep connection between people and the water

Photo taken from behind several dozen people sitting on a green lawn looking towards a brightly colored totem pole resting horizontally on a trailer. The audience appears to be waiting for the speakers to begin their presentations.
Hundreds of people gathered for the opening ceremonies of the Whale People exhibit. The opening ceremony included the appearance of the Red Road to DC Totem.

It’s incredibly rewarding to see our grants in action. Grants Committee Chair Renee Johnson and Education Committee Chair Katha Miller-Winder were able to do just that when they attended the July 10th opening ceremonies for the Whale People exhibit on Vashon Island. With a standing-room-only crowd that clearly exceeded all expectations, the ceremonies included blessings, songs, drumming, dancing, stories, and memories that were deeply moving and emotional.

The Whale People exhibit showcases the deep connection between all people and the water. The event was organized by a coalition of several organizations including the Vashon-based Natural History Museum with the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation. The program was co-sponsored by the Vashon Heritage Museum, Se’Si’Le, Vashon Nature Center, and Vashon Center for the Arts.

The exhibit features a 3,000-pound orca totem carved by the House of Tears Carvers of the Lummi Nation and an award-winning, multi-channel, Imax-style film narrated by the late Chief Tsilixw Bill James of the Lummi Nation, Lummi Master Carver Jewell James, and Amy Ta’ah George of Tsleil-Waututh Nation. The film tells the story of the environmental emergency through the figure of the orca and the story of the leadership of Native Nations in protecting the Salish Sea, the orcas, the salmon, and the future of us all. This exhibition has traveled across the country to a number of museums and has come home to the Pacific Northwest.

The opening ceremonies also featured the 25-foot, 5,000-pound Red Road to DC totem pole carved by the Lummi Nation’s House of Tears Carvers. This totem pole has been crisscrossing the U.S., spending time at sites where environmental challenges are critical. At each location, it collects the prayers of the people. Tour organizers departed with the totem pole immediately after the ceremony so they could gift it to the Biden-Harris Administration with Interior Secretary Deb Haaland acting for the Administration at an event on July 29th in Washington, D.C.

If you haven’t seen it yet, the exhibit runs through August 28th at the Vashon Heritage Museum.


The natural world offers lessons in beauty and function

There are certain basic shapes that are recognized in nature. These are symmetries, trees, spirals, meanders, waves, foams, tessellations, cracks, and stripes according to Wikipedia. We see these shapes reflected in patterns around and inside us.

If we look, we’ll notice that lightning, rivers, trees, and lungs look similar to airports, cities, and highways. Each of these has a quality of flow as things, (e.g., air, water, planes, cars, etc.) move through it. Nature has created efficient and effective structural systems to manage this flow and when people designed their systems of transportation, they found that using similar structural systems was the most efficient and effective way to move people and vehicles.

Close up of several small rocks atop trickling water. The center rock has a visible pattern of water on top of it that was left by someone’s shoe as they stepped on the rock. The pattern looks leafy or feathery.Our fingerprints and the growth rings of trees, scales, and otoliths also echo one another. These patterns are unique to each individual and yet are recognizably the same. Whether we’re a human being or a giant Douglas Fir tree, we are unique and yet we are the same, all part of the natural world.

Looking at the patterns on the rocks left by damp shoes, what do you see? I am struck by how much the tread pattern resembles leaves. I wonder if the designer was consciously or unconsciously influenced by the shape and pattern leaves make? Natural shapes and patterns are all around us. We encourage you to go out and really look at them. Who knows how you might be inspired?

— Katha Miller-Winder
Education Committee Chair


Upcoming events and reminders

  • Have you checked out our new education resources page? You’ll find all kinds of fun learning activities including bingo and scavenger hunts at the Rhododendron Preserve, matching games, and videos. You can also complete one of the activities to earn a chance at a prize in the 2021 Kitsap Kids’ Directory Parks and Trail Challenge! The Foundation is proud to support this effort to encourage families to visit all of Kitsap County’s parks and trails. Visit our education resources page, pick your activity, then enter the parks and trail challenge.
  • Calling all work party enthusiasts and citizen scientists! Our friends at Clear Creek Trail regularly host work parties and citizen scientist events. Take a look at their events page for information about upcoming trail work parties, discovery play days, and more.
  • Join us on September 25th at noon at the Big Tree Trailhead to celebrate the induction of the Rhododendron Preserve to the Old-Growth Forest Network! The network’s mission is to create a national network of protected, publicly accessible native forests. There are currently 138 forests in the network. This is an exciting recognition of our conservation work! Dr. Sarah Horsley, Network Manager of the Old-Growth Forest Network, will present a plaque to Foundation president, Jeff Wirtz. After the ceremony, participants will be invited for a hike along Big Tree Trail. Visit the dedication event page for more information.
  • Save the date! Planning is underway for the Foundation’s 2021 Fall for Fish event on October 23rd. Instead of our regular gala, we will offer donors a boxed lunch at the Preserve and small group tours into Hidden Valley to see the return of the salmon, catch a preview of the restoration work underway, and learn about the new bridge and pavilion being built. Ticket information will be available later this summer.
  • They’re coming… and this time in person! We’re excited to announce the return of in-person Kitsap Salmon Tours this year. The kickoff date will be November 6th, so keep your calendar clear. These tours are possible thanks to a partnership with local governments, the Suquamish Tribe, WSU Extension, Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife, and several other conservation nonprofits.