A community effort is under way to protect 3,000 acres of land from development near Port Gamble to preserve access to trails and other recreation uses, wildlife habitat and water quality.

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At six times the size of Seattle’s Discovery Park, the Port Gamble Forest is a close-by recreational jewel, at risk of development.

With population pressing in close on these woods and people enjoying them with miles of hiking, mountain bike and equestrian trails, there’s a new vision for the forest: protecting the land from development and restoring it as a more natural forest that will be a green gift to future generations.

A campaign led by Forterra, a nonprofit focused on conservation and sustainability issues, is under way to buy the land to protect it from development. Partners in the effort include the Port Gamble S’Klallam and Suquamish Tribes, local governments and recreation, habitat and land trust interests.

Pope Resources, the timber company that owns the land, has cut this forest three times, and will log most of it a fourth and last time as part of the deal that enabled buyers to get more land for less money. The forest will be logged in 50 to 75 acre parcels over 25 years, leaving the most environmentally-sensitive areas untouched, and some prime recreational lands.

Guided walk

Forterra will lead a winter walk through the forest at 10 a.m. Jan. 28.

Trailhead: Off Highway 104 at Port Gamble Forest Heritage Park Trailhead, Olympic Resources Trails, Kingston, 98346

Meet: Meet by the trail kiosk, at the edge of the parking lot.

Bring: Pack a sack lunch or snack and a water bottle. Check the weather and bring appropriate layers or rain gear.

Hike details: Limited elevation gain, suitable for hikers of all ages and abilities.

Please RSVP to shale@forterra.org

Information: forterra.org/events

Campaign website: www.SavePG.org

Source: Forterra

The campaign is the culmination of a multiyear strategy that has already protected 1,355 acres from development, with $2.3 million from the state Department of Ecology. Another $700,000 from community donations has been raised so far, leaving $2.8 million still needed to buy the remaining 1,645 acres by July 2017.

“The word legacy doesn’t cover it, words are inadequate,” Kitsap County Commissioner Robert Gelder said on a recent winter’s walk in the forest, appreciating the extraordinary beauty of this ordinary place.

These are the heavily worked industrial forests that helped launch the prosperity of Puget Sound, and now can provide a different kind of wealth in a rapidly growing region.

“It’s generational in scale, in magnitude,” Gelder said of the importance of saving the land from development. “It’s about today, but also about everyone who comes after us.”

Growth keeps pushing out from Seattle and the central Puget Sound, Gelder noted. “Kitsap is the last place in easy reach. The pressure is already being felt.”

The forest’s waterfront parcels have already been protected; the uplands are the remaining crown jewel in more ways than one. The uplands are critical for the protection long term of the water quality downstream, in the tidelands and bay.

The forest also provides the peace and pleasure sought by recreational users of all sorts. On this recent day, mountain bikers cruised through the woods, and families with kids romped on trails that are gentle enough for the youngest hikers. Dogs on leashes are welcome, and so are horses.

Many trails are wide and flat enough for wheelchair users, and the forest rewards exploration. Sunlight glows on white trunks of alder groves. Other areas are dense and dark and deep, the legacy of close-spaced industrial planting in monocultures of Douglas fir.

One of the goals in acquiring the forest is to eventually restore it to a more natural native forest, both in the spacing and varieties of trees.

Jon Rose, vice president of real estate for Pope Resources, said the company will after the last round of logging replant a more natural forest, instead of the industrial monoculture in some areas today.

Allowing Pope to log the land one last time strips off the value of the timber in the land price, and makes it more affordable to buy, he noted. Over the long term, the result will be a more natural forest, and more land permanently protected from development.

That’s important both to animals and to people, noted Michelle Connor, executive vice president of strategic enterprises for Forterra. “This is what defines who we are as a community, it’s our heritage and it’s our future.”

As she spoke, a heron lifted with a “gronk” from a beaver pond deep in the woods. The quiet drama of a new season already starting was playing out here, with Indian plum and elderberry plants breaking their spring buds.

This deep in the woods, the sounds of traffic were long gone, and only the winter birds could be heard. Sword ferns reached hip high, and a finger could sink knuckle-deep in the moss on an old-growth stump.

Jeromy Sullivan, chairman of the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, noted it was tribal members who first worked in the mill, now long gone, and in the process of a cleanup effort.

The tribe’s relationship to this landscape and this forest is personal. For generations, tribal members have harvested fish and shellfish from the bay, gathered medicinal plants and hunted in the forest.

Saving the forest means those lands will be there into the future not only for tribal members but the surrounding community that has come to rely on it, Sullivan said.

“We have to continue to act as stewards for all the generations to come.”