Property Ruling Rights

Sept. 21, 2023

Foundation Prevails in Property Rights Issue; One Step Closer to Resolving Litigation with The Mountaineers

It has been a busy and long four years. Not only have we continued to add to the footprint of the Rhododendron Preserve, but we have done legacy projects that will serve visitors and our environment for generations to come.

We’ve also had the four-year-long legal matter with The Mountaineers over our name, assets and real property rights. We are grateful for the patience and support we’ve received from everyone invested in the success and restoration of the Rhododendron Preserve over the years.

To that end, we received some good news last week that ensures continued protection of the Preserve.

On Sept. 1, the Court ruled in favor of the Foundation and dismissed The Mountaineers’ claim regarding the real property issue. The Mountaineers claimed that there was an ongoing easement on Foundation land that allowed them unrestrained access to the Preserve for any “historic purposes”at any time. The Court agreed with us that The Mountaineers have no easement or other property right in the Preserve. This is important because our top priority is protecting the Preserve and all the hard work done by volunteers, school children, the Suquamish Tribe and others, to restore the land and waterways. Being able to determine who is entering the Preserve and ensuring they abide by the guidelines for use is critically important to protect it.

Upon the ruling, just as we did last May when The Mountaineers requested access to the Preserve for the summer, we extended an olive branch to their CEO Tom Vogl. In our Sept. 1 letter, we requested that they come to the table to negotiate in good faith on the entirety of the legal matter with the understanding that a confidentiality agreement is signed prior to the negotiations. We required confidentiality because previous attempts at negotiations were shared on their blog, breaching our trust that they were negotiating in good faith and creating confusion within the groups about the status of the litigation.

We’re also pleased to share another piece of good news: The Mountaineers agreed to our request to both sign a confidentiality agreement and participate in overall litigation negotiations Sept. 22-23. This is a great step forward for all involved.

Our only disappointment, however, was seeing The Mountaineers’ blog this week that claims the recent ruling puts into question the annual performances at the Kitsap Forest Theater, which abuts Foundation property. The fact is, The Mountaineers have always had access to the theater through their own path, and will continue to have access through their own property in perpetuity. Their claim that the access from Foundation land is needed for ADA compliance is simply untrue and billing it to ticket purchasers as such is unfair. Neither access point into the theater is ADA compliant. We’re confident the theater will be as alive and vibrant as it has always been regardless of the Court ruling.

We have work ahead to put this behind us. As we have told our board, donors and community partners, we have always been willing to sit down with The Mountaineers to reach a mutually agreeable resolution that is based on respect and good will. Doing so benefits both organizations and the good work we do.

We’ll continue to keep you updated as we can while honoring the confidentiality of the negotiations.

More background on the litigation can be read on our blog here and here.