A Look Back: Preserve One Piece, Partner at a Time

It has a map of the preserve in the left corner, color coded with a letter associated with just block. Below is the information explaining the map. It is map of acquisition history and section names.

The Rhododendron Preserve has a long history, from the original homestead family’s land to the many partners that have made the growth of the Preserve possible through purchases of surrounding parcels.

The Preserve was founded with the purchase of 74 acres of property on the Kitsap Peninsula in 1915 by the Mountaineers. In 1919, 33.53 acres were added. This second purchase includes what is now known as the Kitsap Forest Theater. Mary Remy of Hidden Ranch donated 40 acres in 1955 and her sister Patience Paschall donated another 17 acres in 1963. In 1976, in a joint venture with the Foundation 8.51 acres adjacent to the Theater was purchased, bringing the total footprint to ~190 acres. In 1985, the Mountaineers transferred ownership of 170 acres to the Foundation for preservation and study. The Mountaineers retained ownership of the 20 acres that contain the Kitsap Cabin and the Theater.

As the map shows, some of the added parcels were heavily degraded with significant environmental damage, including debris in the salmon-bearing Wildcat and Chico creeks. The parcels located east of the Theater, the Gardner Hicks Section, reflect the countless hours that Foundation Director Gardner Hicks spent working to restore this area of the Preserve. His work has since been taken over by a troop of Girl Scouts who continue the restoration by planting native trees. It’s wonderful to watch the health of these parcels improve while inspiring young people to protect and preserve our wild spaces.

In 1987, Richard and Mary Martin donated 9.83 acres to the Foundation for inclusion in the Preserve. That same year, the Foundation purchased 1.34 acres across Seabeck Highway, adding the area we now call the parking meadow to the Preserve. Another section was added to this part of the Preserve in 1999 with the purchase of 10.12 acres east of the Dry Creek section of the Preserve.

The last of the ribbon sections Mountaineers members purchased in the early days was donated to the Foundation by Margaret Zygmunt in 1989. The addition of these 2 acres created a continuous section of healthy ecosystem further protecting the core old growth of the Preserve.

The far west boundary of the Preserve expanded by 39.47 acres in 1991 with the purchase of the Jesse Epstein Memorial section, named in honor of the Foundation’s first president.

In 1992, Preserve frontage along Seabeck Highway grew by 5.13 acres with the Foundation’s memorial purchase for Leo Gallagher, who helped expand the original Preserve and was one of the Foundation’s founders.

In 1998, 47.99 acres were added to the Preserve’s southern boundary thanks to a generous bequest by Charles Vail. In his honor, the trail to Big Tree was rechristened the Charles Vail Memorial Trail although most people continue to just call it the Big Tree trail.

The Foundation assumed full ownership control of Hidden Valley Ranch in 2009. In her will, Patience Paschall left the 16.87-acre property to the Foundation with the condition that her long-time caretaker, Harry Murray, be allowed to live there at the property for as long as he chose. He lived out his life there and with his passing full ownership control transferred to the Foundation.

Generous gifts from Jim Lea allowed the Foundation to purchase land along Seabeck Highway NW. We call these parcels the Lea Addition.

An exciting cooperative arrangement in 2012 with the Suquamish Tribe added 69.7 acres along Chico Creek to the Preserve. These parcels were purchased from the Ueland Tree Farm. In the end, the addition of the Suquamish Parcels involved the federal government, a sovereign Tribal Government, a private landowner, and the Foundation.

Since the addition of the Suquamish Parcels, we’ve added an additional 77 acres of the Ueland Tree Farm to the Preserve. The first 37 acres were purchased in 2018 with a generous gift from Daryl Clark and Laura Engstrom. The next 40 acres were purchased in 2021 with a bequest that the Foundation received from the estate of William Hauser..

It’s always good to look back – to see where you’ve been and to acknowledge the many people and groups that helped you get to where you are today. This trip through history makes me more excited for the future and all that we’ll be able to share with our community in the form of green space, healthy waterways, and clean air.

– Scott Eby, Treasurer and Past President