2022 June Newsletter

Letter from our president, Jeff Wirtz

Greetings to all our Foundation friends,

Summer is in full swing and not a moment too soon! We love the rain and the beauty that it creates, but it’s nice to have a little dry weather to welcome new and returning visitors to the Rhododendron Preserve.

As we discussed in our May newsletter, we have a lot of improvements in motion to ensure that we’re keeping the Rhododendron Preserve in great condition. At this year’s Fall for Fish annual fundraiser on Oct. 15th, we’ll celebrate the work that we’ve done to replace the bridge, remove hazards in Hidden Valley, build the pavilion, and add protective decking around Big Tree. It’s truly a labor of love that we can’t wait to share with you. Tickets are now available – we hope you can join this year’s event at Island Lake Park in Poulsbo.

I also want to alert readers that Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) member recruitment is underway for the 2022-23 program year. They are recruiting over 280 members who will serve across Washington state, including with the Foundation. Applications can be submitted here. You can read about their work at the Rhododendron Preserve here.

Last, and certainly not least, the Foundation Board is actively working to educate ourselves about diversity and inclusion to better serve our diverse communities. That’s why we’re so delighted to share a first-hand account from Vamos Outdoors Project in this newsletter about how our community grants program is helping foster inclusion in outdoor activities and create an understanding that nature is a welcoming space for everyone. We truly can’t get enough of these great stories, and we are excited to keep working to foster outdoor inclusion for all.

We hope to see you at the Fall for Fish fundraiser and hope you enjoy this newsletter. Thank you for all you do for the Foundation and our communities.

Stay healthy and well,

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


Building Blocks for Diverse Animal Habitat

The Foundation is committed to creating and preserving the diversity of the more than 400 acres of the Rhododendron Preserve. To do that, we’ll be creating animal habitat piles using dead wood and small trees thinned from overstocked stands.

What are habitat piles and why are they important?

Wildlife habitat piles are built with small trees, limbs, and boughs – often with materials that are a byproduct of forest management activities or storm-related debris. These “critter condos” provide homes for wildlife such as songbirds, voles, chipmunks, squirrels, rabbits, salamanders, frogs, lizards, and snakes. Insects like them too.

Habitat piles are important because they provide food and shelter to more than 40 percent of wildlife species in Pacific Northwest forests. Habitat piles located near streams and wetlands also benefit salmon runs by keeping sediment runoff at bay. And, bonus, these piles will erode over time, creating rich soil that supports a wide variety of forest undergrowth and offers nutrients to the trees.

That’s why we’ll be actively constructing these habitat piles at the Rhododendron Preserve. We want to ensure that birds, small animals, reptiles and yes, even bugs, have a healthy home.

Next time you visit the Rhododendron Preserve, keep a lookout for our habitat piles and think about the many animals and fish they will sustain throughout the year and beyond.

— Jeff Wirtz


Community Grants in Action

On June 11th, we took 11 youth from Latine and Migrant families whitewater rafting through the gorgeous canyon section of the North Fork Nooksack River. The river was running very high with all the recent snow melt and rain that we’ve had up here in Whatcom County. Driving over the bridge and seeing massive whitewater waves made my stomach flip, but the kids unloaded the van with nothing but excitement—a great start to the day.

The highly professional guides walked us through an extensive safety talk before we set out on the river. I sat across from one of the students and watched his eyes and smile grow bigger with every rapid. Every single student was engaged in paddling through the breathtaking North Fork Nooksack River canyon. We pulled over on a relatively protected river bar for lunch, where the students were treated to watermelon, charcuterie, a sandwich bar, lemonade, and brownies.

A few of the trip leaders, including myself, spent significant time educating the students on the ecological significance of the Nooksack River to the region, the five species of salmon that call the river home, some of the threats that impact the river (logging, irresponsible recreation, hydropower, flood management infrastructure, etc.), as well as some of the restoration work being done by the Nooksack Indian Tribe to alleviate these impacts (a staff member from the Nooksack Tribe joined us on the trip). The students also shared some of the Leave No Trace practices that they had learned from previous excursions and talked about how they applied them to this trip.

When we got back to the outfitter’s headquarters, after the students helped load the rafts back onto the trailer, the students celebrated one of their trip leaders who had just graduated from college and would be moving on from working with this group of students. They wrapped him in a big hug and shared a tres leches cake. I was honored to be a part of that celebration.

We then had a trip debrief where each student named their favorite part of the trip, the most challenging aspect of the trip, and what they want to improve upon. All but one student kept talking about what they’d like to do on their next whitewater rafting trip—a pretty good ratio for 11 kids trying something scary for the first time!

The participants and I want to extend an enormous “thank you” to you and the Foundation who made this trip possible. This trip was an invitation for this underserved community of Latine youth to participate in a historically white-dominated river recreation activity. We hope that it sparked a new sense of curiosity and appreciation and that these students will become great advocates for rivers.

We greatly appreciate that the Foundation shared and amplified our project on the Foundation’s website and e-newsletter.

Thank you, sincerely, for your support.

Bridget Moran, Vamos Outdoors Project

What a beautiful day they had. On behalf of the Foundation, we are so glad your trip was such a success. You are doing important work!

— Nancy Neyenhouse
Vice President


Crown Shyness

Have you ever looked up at the forest canopy? Did you notice how there are gaps between treetops where you can see the sky? Did you wonder why trees give each other space like that?

Dendrologists, the people who study trees, call it “crown shyness.” That term always sounds to me like the trees are too bashful to let their tops touch. In fact, scientists aren’t sure why some species of trees are so careful to keep their branches from touching while others do not exercise such care.

If you look up at the canopy at our Rhododendron Preserve, you’ll often see areas where the trees are giving each other space. Some scientists argue that by keeping their limbs from touching each other, the trees are protecting themselves from the damage that would occur when wind whipped the branches and leaves against each other.

Other scientists believe that maintaining space and not allowing branches from different trees to touch is a way to prevent diseases and insect infestations. When the trees don’t touch each other, it’s more difficult for larvae, insects, and diseases to move from tree to tree.

Still others contend that when the trees give each other space, light has greater penetration, and the forest can photosynthesize more efficiently. The trees are cooperating to maximize the chances of survival for each of them. I like the idea that trees are cooperating with each other so that each has the best chance to survive and thrive. Trees live in communities and cooperation is essential if a community is to flourish. More and more research is being done that reveals how trees cooperate with each other. Future research may determine that crown shyness is just one more way trees collaborate to ensure that their communities prosper.

You can learn more about crown shyness and about how trees maintain their separation in this article.

— Katha Miller-Winder
Chair of the Education Committee


Upcoming events and reminders

  • A new pavilion and bridge in Hidden Valley will be constructed this summer with a completion date of mid-October. This project has taken 5+ years of planning, fundraising, and many board volunteer hours to get where it is today.
  • Save the date: Fall for Fish annual fundraising event, Oct. 15th, 2022, at Island Lake Park, 1087 NW Island Lake Road in Poulsbo. Tickets are now available.
  • Mark your calendar for Giving Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022.