2021 Paul Wiseman Conservation Education Grant Awards

Reconnecting people and place

Kitsap-based Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as Mountaineers Foundation, is pleased to announce the two winners of this year’s $15,000 Paul Wiseman grants awards: Rivershed Society of BC and Great Peninsula Conservancy.

The Foundation’s Paul Wiseman Conservation Education Grant program supports two projects each year. One grant award is for projects focused on environmental education and the other award for a restoration project. The Foundation received 10 project applications for its 2021 cycle.

Wiseman was a well-known mountaineer from Olympia who passed away in 2011 two days before his 99th birthday.

“One of the most important ways to ensure we can protect our air, land and water is by reconnecting people to the places we live and depend on,” said Renee Johnson, chair of the Foundation’s community grants committee. “The Paul Wiseman grant allows us to invest in projects that will have a lasting impact in the Salish Sea region. We are incredibly humbled at the opportunity to support these two organizations and all they’re doing to promote culturally-appropriate and inclusive approaches to conservation and education.” 

2021 Paul Wiseman Conservation Education Grant Program Awardees

Rivershed Society of BC

Foodlands Corridor Restoration Program

Rivershed’s mission is to connect, protect and restore the salmon and wildlife habitat within each of the Fraser River watershed’s 34 riversheds. The organization’s Foodlands Corridor Restoration Program is a partnership with local Indigenous communities and agricultural landholders to restore portions of the private land adjacent to the waterways along the staləw ̓/ Fraser River. The grant supports creation of a Foodlands Toolkit for organizations and stakeholders on how best to complete restoration work using a decolonized Theory of Change. It will provide community resources for conflict resolution, historical analysis of sites, and tools for approaching the land and people with honor and respect.

The program aims to create corridors of restored natural areas that reflect the diversity of values that the land represents, both from a western farming perspective and from a traditional hunting and gathering perspective.

— Justine Nelson, Executive Director, Rivershed Society of BC

This is the first known toolkit of its kind in the region to promote a health-centered restoration approach that takes into account food systems, Indigenous knowledge, and multiple landholders.

Great Peninsula Conservancy

Land Labs

GPC’s goal for the Land Labs program started earlier this year was simple: connect kids with the lands the GPC creates. Land Labs was created to provide outdoor experiences for students from historically marginalized communities or who may not have traditions of outdoor recreation. In 2021, the program was able to serve six classrooms of middle-school students from Catalyst Public Schools in Bremerton. The Foundation’s grant will allow GPC to expand the program to serve an entire grade level at Mountain View Middle School. GPC will focus on recruiting volunteer instructors who reflect the communities of students served.

Students who participate in Land Labs learn about the impacts of climate change and how to serve as a steward of local lands. The Land Labs are designed to meet Next Generation Science Standards. GPC surveyed participating students in 2021 and reported 82% of them said spending time outdoors made them more excited to learn.

GPC’s Executive Director, Nathan Daniel, has said: “This substantial grant from Keta Legacy Foundation will expand our Land Labs program, turning more of Great Peninsula Conservancy’s nature preserves into learning laboratories where local students connect with nature through hands-on community science. We are grateful for this support and look forward to collaborating with the Foundation to increase community engagement in land conservation right here in our community.”

Read more about the Foundation’s ongoing grant program, as well as projects we have funded in the past.

2021 October Newsletter

Girl Scout Troop 43990 have adopted the Wymer parcel of the Rhododendron Preserve

Letter from our president, Jeff Wirtz

Greetings to all our Foundation friends,

I’m thrilled to share that our Rhododendron Preserve is now 40 acres larger thanks to a new land purchase from our friends at Ueland Tree Farm! This is our latest purchase from Ueland Tree Farm, totaling more than 140 acres of valuable forest land that provides a healthy buffer for the habitat and salmon runs within the Preserve. We’re fortunate to share land within the Chico Creek watershed with a landowner that is just as dedicated to protecting salmon as we are, and who entrusts us to be good stewards of this land.

A big thank you to everyone who joined us at our Fall for Fish fundraiser on Oct. 23rd. Your contributions make our work possible, and your participation in our events makes our work feel more like fun. This year’s event provided attendees a special opportunity to hike into Hidden Valley, see the preservation work underway, and learn how this work supports salmon recovery throughout the Salish Sea region. After canceling all our main events last year due to COVID, it was really fantastic to see folks in person again. One of our Foundation directors, Katha Miller-Winder, shares a few highlights from the day in our newsletter below.

We’re fortunate to share land within the Chico Creek watershed with a landowner that is just as dedicated to protecting salmon as we are, and who entrusts us to be good stewards of this land.

If you weren’t able to attend, but are still interested in contributing to the Foundation, we’d be grateful for your support. Never has our work to protect salmon been more urgent or important. You can allow the Foundation to use your donation wherever it’s needed most, or you can direct your donation specifically to our community grants program, our conservation education program, or the Rhododendron Preserve. Every dollar donated directly supports program activities, and we’re proud to manage all our funds in a fossil-fuel free social investment fund.

As a bonus, our online donation page features downloadable gift tags, so you can contribute on behalf of a loved one or give the gift of an outdoor experience at the Preserve!

Thanks again to everyone who has contributed time, money, and goodwill to Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as Mountaineers Foundation. We appreciate your partnership more than you know.

Stay healthy and well,

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


Fall for Fish event provided sneak peek at preservation work in Hidden Valley

Rain didn’t keep away an enthusiastic group of the Foundation’s friends and benefactors from gathering together for this year’s Fall for Fish event. Every year, this event offers a chance for us to celebrate our organization’s successes and preview upcoming plans. This year was especially fun because attendees had a chance to veer off our well-loved Big Tree path for a sneak peek at the preservation work underway in the Hidden Valley area of the Preserve.

Entering Hidden Valley from the bridgeAfter assembling in the dry creek meadow section for short video introductions and remarks from Foundation directors, attendees hiked down to the current bridge over Wildcat Creek. This bridge will be replaced with a more structurally sound bridge located on the edge of Hidden Valley. At the bridge, Director Amy Lawrence brilliantly described the flora and fauna of the Preserve and the importance of the Preserve to salmon and the Salish Sea region.

From the bridge, attendees moved into the Hidden Valley section of the Preserve. This space is closed to the public while we work on restoration. Entering Hidden Valley, attendees walked past the site for the new bridge, the location for the new education pavilion, and past dangerous, decrepit buildings that will be removed. Permitting and planning are underway, and demolition and construction will begin in 2022.

After the tour attendees gathered in the heart of Hidden Valley to learn from Suquamish Tribe Fisheries biologist Jon Oleyar about salmon and efforts to enhance salmon runs. If you missed the Kitsap Sun’s story earlier this year about the Suquamish Tribe’s work in the Preserve, it’s worth a read.

Hidden Valley is an original homestead site in Kitsap County occupied until 2011. As such there has been significant human impact. Yet, standing in the valley, everywhere you look you see nature reclaiming the space, both as a result of our assistance and as a natural result of environmental systems at work.

At one point, standing in the valley in lull between rain squalls, attendees were treated to the sight of a bald eagle flying overhead. This time of year, eagles are among a host of species gathering by the water for a salmon feast. Salmon hadn’t quite made it to Hidden Valley yet but were gathering in deeper water spots waiting for the rains that will fill the creek and create the right conditions for spawning.

Standing at the bridge on the Big Tree trail or in the middle of Hidden Valley it’s easy to see what the Foundation is fighting to preserve. Being there and watching a bald eagle fly overhead is inspiring. And the wonder of being educated by experts can’t be overstated. It was a magical day.

There’s still time to donate and help the Foundation continue to Preserve, Inspire, and Educate.

— Katha Miller-Winder
Education Committee Chair


Girl Scouts bring new life back to the Preserve

Our vision at the Foundation is people connecting with and protecting healthy ecosystems. Girl Scout Troop #43990 represents a true success in achieving our vision.

Girl Scout Troop 43990 have adopted the Wymer parcel of the Rhododendron PreserveThis troop of girls and their families have adopted the Wymer parcel of the Rhododendron Preserve. This parcel is one of the buffer pieces that was most heavily impacted by human activities.

Despite years of volunteers trying to plant trees and clear scotch broom, a common but invasive plant, the Wymer parcel remained stubbornly covered with scotch broom and only a few scattered trees. This intrepid group of girls and their wonderful families wanted to help and adopted this parcel five years ago. Their goal is to restore it to healthy woodlands. They’ve worked hard on the parcel. While the girls planted new trees, their families worked tirelessly to cut, dig, and pull the invasive scotch broom. Removing the scotch broom gave the trees more space and light and the trees we had planted in the past began to thrive creating healthier conditions for the trees the girls planted.

In October 2021, two Girl Scouts visit a tree they planted in the spring of 2019.
Girl Scouts planted a small tree in 2019, and you can see two of those girls standing next to that same tree this year. Both the girls and the tree have grown quite a bit!

The Girl Scout families’ efforts to remove the scotch broom have already made a big difference, and these efforts were extended by work from the South Kitsap High School Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. As the oldest saplings grow taller, they’re starting to shade out the scotch broom which makes it harder for shrub to survive and have created better conditions for new plantings.

The COVID-19 pandemic prevented the girls from visiting the Preserve for nearly two years. When they visited again to plant more trees they were thrilled and delighted to see how much things had grown and improved. They are very connected to this piece of the Preserve and delighted to have a hand in restoring it to healthy conditions. It’s inspiring to see the excitement and sense of ownership the Girl Scouts and their families have about this place. Watching the girls planting trees and their families removing invasive species we’re able to see our vision in action. You can find more photos from our day with the Girl Scouts and their families on our Facebook page.


Beaver dams – friend or foe to salmon?

True or false? One way to help salmon pass through streams and rivers is to break through beaver dams to open up a passage.

True or false: It hurt salmon if you break through beaver dams for them.On the face of it this seems like a no-brainer. Dams block the flow of water and create a barrier to salmon, so knocking a hole in the dam would help them. Right?
Think again. People tend to take a simplistic view of systems and only focus on a single aspect, but nature takes a macro view of how all the pieces work together. People see salmon stacking up behind a beaver dam and think the dam is an impediment to salmon getting upstream to spawn. But look again. What you see is nature stacking salmon up behind a beaver dam because there isn’t yet enough water in the creek to provide the right conditions for salmon to successfully spawn.

When a creek system has enough water to create successful spawning conditions, the water will deal with the beaver dam. The water will either blast a channel through the dam that allows fish to swim through the dam, or the water will overflow the dam and create a hurdle for salmon to leap over. In the latter case, the salmon crashing onto the dam as they try to hurtle it will actually pack the dam tighter in that area which improves conditions even more for the next salmon.

When humans knock holes into beaver dams, it actually harms salmon. The sudden rush of the dammed water gives salmon the false impression there is a substantial amount of water upstream and encourages them to advance when they should wait. These salmon arrive at their spawning grounds and spawn, but in water that is too shallow. When the torrential rains come and the creeks swell, the rushing water scours out the redds (the depressions female salmon make in the gravel to safely deposit their eggs) and washes away the eggs. When salmon wait until the creeks are swollen with water, they select more stable areas to build their redds and the eggs are more likely to stay put.

Be a salmon friend and let nature do what it does best. Leave beaver dams to nature and don’t disturb, damage, or destroy them. The natural system knows how to deal with beaver dams and it doesn’t require our help.

— Katha Miller-Winder
Education Committee Chair


Upcoming events and reminders

  • They’re coming… and this time in person! If you missed the Kitsap Salmon Tours kickoff on November 6th, don’t worry. You still have time to see the salmon returning to the Preserve throughout November. Check out this beautiful video and photos from the kickoff event on our Facebook page.
  • Scavenger hunts, forest bingo, video adventures and more! If you haven’t had a chance to peruse our new Education Resources page, now is a great time to find a fun indoor or outdoor learning adventure for the young and young at heart.

Land Purchase Helps Protect Salmon Habitat

salmon in a shallow stream

At a time when experts say salmon in the Pacific Northwest are “teetering on the brink of extinction,” local and regional salmon preservation efforts have taken on new urgency. A recent land sale by Ueland Tree Farm adds 40 new acres to the now 466-acre Rhododendron Preserve located in Kitsap County. The Preserve is home to the region’s largest chum salmon run. Annually it supports tens of thousands of chum and coho salmon, as well as steelhead and cutthroat trout.

Keta Legacy Foundation, also known as Mountaineers Foundation, owns the Preserve. The nonprofit organization has been acquiring land since 1986 to promote stewardship of the Chico Creek watershed and its miles of salmon-spawning habitat. The Preserve started as just 74 acres but has grown over the years.

“For nearly 40 years, the Foundation has been working with surrounding landowners so that we can improve our ability to protect salmon habitat and keep the region’s forests and waters healthy,” said Jeff Wirtz, the Foundation’s president. “UTF has been an incredible partner and shares our strong desire to promote stewardship and conservation. They see the need to protect this land for salmon, especially as development pressures increase in Kitsap County.”

“As two of the largest landowners in the Chico Creek basin, UTF is fortunate to partner with the Foundation to help protect the Chico Creek watershed and its wonderful salmon run,” said Craig Ueland, managing member of UTF. “The Foundation and its many benefactors deserve our heartfelt thanks for their leadership in preserving this wonderful ecosystem for future generations.”

The Foundation land purchase will help protect salmon habitat in one of our most important watersheds.

Rob Purser
Director of the Suquamish Tribe’s Fisheries and Natural Resources Division

The Foundation and UTF have a long partnership that dates to 2009 when they worked together to create a conservation easement on 100 acres of the tree farm near Chico and Lost Creeks. UTF sold 69 acres of land near Chico Creek to the Foundation in 2012, thanks to grant funding from the Suquamish Tribe, and another 37 acres in 2018 with funds provided to the Foundation by generous donors.

“The health of Chico Bay and Dyes Inlet are of crucial importance for the Suquamish Tribe,” said Rob Purser, director of the Tribe’s Fisheries and Natural Resources Division. “The Foundation land purchase will help protect salmon habitat in one of our most important watersheds. Tribal and non-Tribal fisheries, Southern Resident Killer Whales, and the Salish Sea ecosystem can only benefit.”

“These land purchases allow us to create a healthy forest buffer that protects the streams and habitat within the Preserve and Chico Creek watershed,” Wirtz said. “We’re seeing every day how interconnected our natural systems are. What we do locally to protect our salmon has far-reaching impacts throughout the Salish Sea region.”

Visitors to the Preserve can hike Big Tree Trail to see Kitsap County’s largest publicly-accessible Douglas Fir. The trail also provides salmon viewing opportunities this month as the salmon return for the fall spawning season.

2021 September Newsletter

Letter from our president, Jeff Wirtz

Greetings to all our Foundation friends,

We hope that everyone is enjoying the transition into fall. Our team has been busy preparing for our Fall for Fish fundraiser on Oct. 23rd. This year’s event will be a really special and fun way to preview all the preservation and conservation work underway in Hidden Valley. If you didn’t see the invite in your e-mail, registration information is now online. Your support is what allows us to care for the Preserve and support numerous conservation and education efforts. We hope that you can join us!

Ryan Walsh, a local aerial arborist, climbed Big Tree earlier this summer to check on its overall health and keep the tree’s visitors safe by clearing out any large branches at risk of falling into the viewing area. Ryan reported that Big Tree is currently 230 feet tall and about 10 feet in diameter at the base. He estimates Big Tree is more than 800 years old! If you want to see what the Preserve looks like from the top of Big Tree, you can check out his photos and video footage on our Facebook page!

Speaking of Big Tree, many thanks to everyone who joined us for the Old-Growth Forest Network dedication event on Sept. 25th. We’re very excited to be part of this national effort to protect old-growth forests! You can see photos from the event on our Facebook page and in the article below.

Finally, I want to express thanks and appreciation to our interns. They have spent the summer working on updates to our Preserve management plan and producing new data layers for our Preserve maps. They also produced a new field survey manual to help guide the work of future interns who will help us collect data about the health of the Preserve. Their work will significantly improve our ability to analyze the health of the Preserve and manage it for future generations to enjoy. We are so grateful they have been putting their skills and knowledge to work for the Foundation.

Stay healthy and well,

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


Checking on our planted seedlings

In January 2021, the Foundation planted 360 seedling trees on the Rhododendron Preserve. These were planted in three different parts of the Preserve:

  • Along a section of Big Tree trail where root rot is beginning to damage the Douglas Fir trees, we planted a lot of Western Red Cedar trees as well as some White Pine trees. Both these trees are resistant to root rot.
  • On the Wymer Parcel, a buffer parcel that is slowly being restored to forest land, we planted mainly White Pine with some Western Red Cedar.
  • In Hidden Valley, where trees to shade the creeks is limited, we planted a mix of Cedar and Pine.

As I hike out to Big Tree and back, I look at the seedlings and most of them have been doing well. These seedlings have the benefit of mature trees that maintain conditions favorable to the survival of infant trees. In some cases, the mature trees even adopt the seedlings and nurture them by sharing nutrients and water.

Unfortunately, the seedlings planted in Hidden Valley don’t have the same favorable conditions or the support of the mature trees. These seedlings are exposed to the full force of the sun, and most of the ones planted in Hidden Valley have not survived the extreme temperatures and drought conditions of the past summer. There are only a few that are thriving.

The seedlings planted on the Wymer Parcel are the ones that I find most interesting. These three Cedar seedlings are planted within 20 yards of each other, but each has slightly different growing conditions.

dry, brown cedar seedling

healthy, vibrant green cedar seedling

unhealthy cedar seedling with brown patches

  • The seedling that didn’t survive was planted in a clearing with no other trees nearby.
  • The healthy, thriving seedling was planted in an opening among mature trees.
  • The brown patches on the third seedling, which was planted on the edge of a stand of young trees, show signs of damage, but the seedling may yet survive.

The best predictor of seedling survival appears to be the presence of mature trees. Since we know that trees care for their young, this isn’t a big surprise. Like the young of many animals, tree babies need adult trees to take care of them. When there are no adult trees present, seedlings need care from people. We’ll be exploring ways to irrigate seedlings planted in Hidden Valley and on the Wymer Parcel when we plant there in the future.

— Katha Miller-Winder
Education Committee Chair


Rhododendron Preserve is honored to join national forest network

A group of about 20 adults and children are standing in the forest under the shade of tall fir trees smiling at the camera. Two of the adults are holding plaques with the logo of the Old-Growth Forest Network.In case you missed it, the Foundation was honored to participate in a dedication event last month to induct the Preserve into the national Old-Growth Forest Network. The network’s mission is to create a national network of protected old-growth forests where people of all generations can experience biodiversity and the beauty of nature. There are currently 143 forests in the network, now including ours! The Hoh Rainforest in Olympic National Park is also part of the network.

Dr. Sarah Horsley presents the dedication plaque to Foundation president Jeff Wirtz“The Rhododendron Preserve is the heart of the best habitat left for Keta and coho salmon in the Chico Creek system,” said Foundation secretary Mindy Roberts during the ceremony. “This forest has come dangerously close to being lost multiple times – from the threat of fires, logging, and economic instability. The Foundation, inspired by this unique forest, takes our commitment to stewardship and reciprocity seriously. We are thrilled to expand our human network to include the Old-Growth Forest Network, and in doing so, provide mutual benefit for years to come.”

Dr. Sarah Horsley, the Network’s Manager, presented a plaque to Foundation president Jeff Wirtz. Participants, which included members of the local Girl Scout troop, were then invited for a hike along Big Tree Trail.


What salmon need

There’s an easy mnemonic about what salmon need in creeks in order to survive and thrive. Hold up four fingers and remember the 4 Cs: cool, clear, clean, and consistent water.
When water is too warm, salmon suffer. A lack of trees shading stream banks, large amounts of pavement around a creek, or low water levels can increase water temperatures and endanger salmon.
Clear water improves salmon’s ability to navigate and maintains their health since they don’t have to filter out mud and muck as they breathe and eat. A healthy salmon stream has a nicely cobbled bed of rocks, which minimizes mud and muck rising from the bottom. Trees along the banks anchor the soil, so that it does not erode into the stream muddying the water.
Salmon need clean water that isn’t polluted with chemicals, garbage, and trash. Protecting creeks from run-off from lawns, agriculture, and roadways helps keep water clean.

A healthy salmon stream is a consistent year-round stream. Importantly, consistent water isn’t just sitting there. The water flows at a steady rate to keep the water oxygenated and fresh. Still water that isn’t moving stagnates and becomes a breeding ground for algae and plant growth that will further impede and choke the flow of water.

In a typical year, the three salmon streams on our Rhododendron Preserve exemplify all four Cs. The water in our well-shaded creeks is cool. It stays clear thanks to the trees and other plants that securely hold the banks in place, minimize erosion of soil into the creeks, and filter run-off. The healthy and protected forest surrounding the creeks keeps the water clean. And regular rains maintain a healthy flow of consistent water.

stagnant water in wildcat creekSadly, this year’s heat dome events resulted in water temperatures that were higher than normal. The extremely dry conditions mean more dust has been blowing into the creeks, making the water slightly murky. The water is still fairly clean, but drought conditions have lowered the water level and some stagnant areas are present where you can see a faint scum of algae and plant growth.

We can each take several steps to do our part to protect salmon streams. Practice conservation and use water wisely. Plant trees and native drought-tolerant plants. Practice sustainable gardening and agriculture that doesn’t rely on regular infusions of chemicals to maintain growth. It’s in our power to make choices that make a difference.

— Katha Miller-Winder
Education Committee Chair


Upcoming events and reminders

  • October 23rd – Fall For Fish. We’re back in person this year! 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. Purchase your tickets online!
  • 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.
  • Coming soon – Preserve work party! We’ve spotted non-native, invasive spotted jewelweed in a few locations throughout the Preserve. We’ll announce a work party soon – keep an eye on our Facebook page and website for information.
  • Scavenger hunts, forest bingo, video adventures and more! If you haven’t had a chance to peruse our new Education Resources page, now is a great time to find a fun indoor or outdoor learning adventure for the young and young at heart.

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.