2022 March Newsletter

Letter from our president, Jeff Wirtz

Greetings to all our Foundation friends,

As we head into a busy time at Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as Mountaineers Foundation, we hope that you’ll take part in the GiveBIG online event through May 4. This event provides the opportunity for you to support organizations and causes that you value. Donations to the Foundation help fund our many preservation and outdoor education efforts that continue to inspire the current and next generation of conservation-minded individuals.

We are thrilled to begin in-person visits to the Rhododendron Preserve again. We’ve been cautious since the onset of the pandemic but are excited to see the faces of new and returning visitors. If you’d like to set up a time to support work projects or bring a class or group for a learning experience, please email us.

Finally, we are gearing up to begin work on the construction of a new education pavilion in Hidden Valley this summer, a project that we hope to have completed by our fall fundraising event. We’ll also be replacing our Wildcat Creek bridge over the summer. This project is only possible with your support. We’ll keep you updated as this work and all the other activities take place over the next few months.

Thank you, as always, for your support and active interest in our work. We appreciate you.

Stay healthy and well,

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


Stewardship meets technology

Meet Casey Blankenship, a Western Washington University senior enrolled in the College of the Environment on the Peninsulas program.

Some of you may already know him from his three years of work as an intern at the Rhododendron Preserve, where he has taken his passion for conservation and married it with technology to help the Foundation identify and map the many different forest types on the Preserve.

A self-proclaimed Navy brat, he went to work in the Bremerton shipyard at a young age. But, when that work wasn’t fulfilling for him, he began taking classes at Olympic College in Bremerton, where he met me, Amy Lawrence, a Foundation board member and professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at the college.

In 2019, Casey and I discussed a possible internship at the Foundation. However, he needed GIS mapping experience, which he didn’t have at the time. GIS, or geographic information systems, simply put, connects data to a map, integrating location data with all types of descriptive information.

“I wanted to do the internship, so I asked if it was possible for me to take on the internship if I started taking GIS courses,” Casey explained. My answer was a resounding “yes.”

In early 2020, after three GIS courses, Casey met with me and Jeff Wirtz, president of the Foundation, to discuss coming on board as an intern to support forest mapping for restoration work.

That’s where it all started. He interned in 2020 and returned in 2021 with a new game plan – an app that he built that served as a mobile data-collection tool that linked to information gathered on the ground with metrics in the Ecosystem Management Plan for the Preserve.

“Another intern and I had this tool on our phones that was linked to all the data we wanted to collect on the forest,” Casey said, noting that they used the app to catalogue data on 70 different forest plots on the Preserve, measuring over 1,000 trees. The goal was to determine forest stand density to identify the health of the stand and tree age and species, to create a plan to bring overcrowded or unhealthy stands back to health.

Today, Casey is training the next cohort of interns with the hope that they, too, will see and experience the rare gem that is the Rhododendron Preserve.

When asked what brought him back year after year, Casey explained that the Preserve is one-of-a-kind.

“The Preserve is just such a special place,” Casey said. “Two major watersheds connect and then feed out to Puget Sound. What makes it so special is not just the beauty and the diverse ecosystems on the Preserve, but the history of the homesteader and the confluence of the creeks and Big Tree.”

He said one of his most memorable days was a sunset walk in the Preserve when he and the other intern discovered a “beautiful, well-spaced, mature tree stand” that they had never seen before in their work on the Preserve.

“It was a magical day and it reminded me of just how special the place is,” Casey said.

He said he’ll keep coming back to make sure future interns can use the tools he developed to support the restoration work on the Preserve.

“I am incredibly grateful to have been able to work for the Foundation,” Casey said. “The freedom my bosses gave me to experiment with these GIS tools and direct my own project and learning experience led to getting hired by a small GIS company in Bellingham. I am very lucky to have worked for them and it’s that positive experience that brought me back to work on the Preserve for a third year.”

The Foundation is incredibly grateful for all of Casey’s work and expertise that help us continue to restore and preserve the beauty of the Preserve.

-Amy Lawrence
Co-chair of the Preserve Committee


Giving Native Species Breathing Room

The Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) was back in Hidden Valley for two weeks in March. It is the fourth year of having WCC crews at the Preserve. Their work to remove invasive species is incredibly important – it serves to ensure that the native species stay healthy and thrive.

This time, crews worked to remove Himalayan Blackberry as part of the ongoing restoration process for Hidden Valley. In the past, WCC crews removed English Holly and worked to rebuild steps on the Big Tree trail. They also created a map of invasive species on several parcels in 2019 to help the Foundation prioritize removal of invasive species. WCC’s work is incredibly helpful as we work to protect and restore Hidden Valley and other parts of the Preserve.

This work is made possible by donors to the Foundation. Through May 4, you can participate in Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as the Mountaineers Foundation, GiveBIG campaign to support all the ongoing preservation and maintenance work in the Hidden Valley.

-Nancy Neyenhouse
Vice President


Girl Scout Troop finds unity among the trees

One of the great joys of my work with the Foundation is being able to connect young people to the environment and foster their connection to healthy ecosystems. It’s delightful to witness the excitement and enthusiasm that Girl Scout Troop #43990 brings to the section of our Rhododendron Preserve that they are working to restore.

As part of the recent planting in Hidden Valley and on other parts of the Preserve, the girls of Troop #43990 planted 40 shore pines in the area where they have been working. This was also a chance for them to check on the trees that they planted last October. We estimate about 70% of the trees that they planted last fall are thriving. It’s wonderful to see the girls visiting their trees and greeting them like special friends.All the girls had a role in planting

There is one tree that the girls planted as a group when both the troop and the girls were smaller. The girls named this tree “unity” and each time they come to plant more trees or check on the health of their plantings, they visit the “unity” tree and we take a photo. It’s exciting to watch how the tree, the girls, and the troop are all thriving in their environments.Troop with the Unity tree

Being able to visit the Preserve and to contribute to its ongoing health, as well as work to ensure its health into the future, has a profound impact on the girls. One of the troop leaders shared the results of a recent troop brainstorming session where the girls identified all the things that they dream of doing. They then voted for those things that they would like to do most. The top three activities that the troop dreams of doing are going to Disneyland, visiting Japan, and planting more trees for the Foundation. It drives home just how much their connection to the land means to these young people. Fostering that connection is an important part of why the Foundation exists and, we hope, it continues to grow the next generation of conservationists.

-Katha Miller-Winder
Chair of the Education Committee


Upcoming events and reminders

  • Earth Day, April 22nd.
  • The GiveBIG campaign runs through May 4th.
  • We connect students to the Preserve by providing transportation stipends to schools for field trips.
  • In 2021, we expanded the Preserve by another 40 acres.
  • We hire a Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) crew for two weeks twice a year to do vital maintenance and invasive species control at the Preserve.
  • This is our fourth year of hiring two paid interns to work on the Ecosystem Management Plan for the Preserve.
  • 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.