A $13 million fundraising effort means saving the Port Gamble Forest from development. The property includes a saltwater beach and forested trails.

Share story

It took marching as trees in the Viking Fest parade. And as an octopus in the Fourth of July parade. And opening hearts to collaborate — and wallets to contribute.

It took all of that and a whole lot of work to conserve the Port Gamble Forest, saved forever from development.

The deal closed Friday by the nonprofit Forterra with Pope Resources was 10 years in the making, and capped an effort that included some $4 million in community contributions and grants in the final phase of the campaign from 1,200 donors.

“To have that $10 donor, that $100 donor say, ‘we have to do this,’ is really inspiring,” said Michelle Connor, executive vice president of Forterra, which led the campaign. “It matters both because of the place, but also the spirit of the people this represents. Everyone unified around this, and when you are there (in the forest), you feel it. That is what makes this so exceptional.”

The cost of the Kitsap Forest and Bay Campaign was $13.3 million to purchase 4,000 acres in all.

The campaign was an effort to conserve forest and shoreline surrounding Port Gamble Bay in north Kitsap County on western Puget Sound. The landscape is a mix of forest, 1.5 miles of unspoiled shoreline, and bogs and wetlands alive with wildlife.

It is a place resplendent with sweet spots: big trees, quiet stretches of beach, meadows, ponds and streams.

Nearly eight times the size of Discovery Park, the property includes 65 miles of trails already used by more than 20,000 hikers, birders, mountain bikers, equestrians, cyclists, runners and people from all over the region seeking some peace and quiet and space — all the more prized as Kitsap County develops.

The forest also is home to bear, coyote, deer and birds from hairy woodpeckers to red-breasted sapsuckers. It’s one of the largest lowland forests in the Hood Canal watershed, and preserving such a large swath of land also will help protect the watershed of Port Gamble Bay.

Setting the land aside now was a crucial win for the future, with two foot ferries now connecting Kitsap County with Seattle, and even more development expected, Conner said.

“Kitsap County is going to change enormously, and we are fortunate to have gotten ahead of that,” Connor said. “So often it is too late, and you are scrambling against something that has already happened.”

Like everyone else involved in the campaign, she emphasized the “we” part.

Everybody helped — the bird people, the horse people, the trail people, the mountain-bike people. The Suquamish Tribe, the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, Kitsap County, Kitsap Audubon Society, North Kitsap Trails Association, Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance-West Sound, and Backcountry Horseman-Olympic Chapter. And on, and on, in a coalition of more than 30 local and state agencies, businesses, nonprofits and community groups.

“We are really proud of people putting their shoulder to the wheel and not being daunted by what seemed like an impossible task, it was, ‘we’ve got to get this done,’ ” Connor said. “And that was more than 10 years ago, without a clear path of how to get it done. Everyone started chipping away.”

The forest, logged three times, will now provide a different kind of wealth for the community, said Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of the Great Peninsula Conservancy, based in Bremerton. “The timber companies that helped Puget Sound and Kitsap grow, that is what we started from, and they are helping us as a partner, closing the loop, bringing it full circle to less-intensive use of the forest. Now it is more for recreation, birds and wildlife.”

She called the preservation campaign a true community effort, with many phases, players, ups and downs. “This to us, it is monumental,” she said. “This will have an impact for generations.”

As part of the deal, some of the forest will be logged one last time by Pope Resources. That lowered the price of the land, and also makes it possible, over time, to restore it to more of a natural forest, said Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe.

“That is a short time frame; they get the opportunity to harvest the timber and then we have the opportunity to plant a more natural forest, as opposed to a tree farm,” Sullivan said. Not only that, but the landscape can also support cultural practices for generations to come, Sullivan said.

“What it means to me is just having open space … it is just an incredible opportunity. We are very excited and it gives us more opportunities in the future to teach our kids how to practice our culture.”

The water quality of the Port Gamble Bay and Puget Sound also will be protected by shorelines preserved from development, he said.

A place long important to the people of the Suquamish Tribe, the forest will be a gift to everyone’s future, said Leonard Forsman, tribal chairman. “It’s been a long journey,” Forsman said of the campaign. “Especially with all the growth Puget Sound is experiencing, it’s a big win.”