Sunday, June 19, 2016

Breathing Spaces: Mt. Rainier National Park


Above: Mt. Rainier National Park at Paradise is a winter wonderland this week. In celebration of the centennial of the National Park Service, master storyteller and author Terry Tempest Williams spoke on Tuesday at Paradise Inn about her new book, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks. She calls our national parks,“breathing spaces.”

By Janine Gates

MT. RAINIER NATIONAL PARK – TUESDAY…SHOWERS…CHANCE OF THUNDERSTORMS IN THE AFTERNOON. SNOW ACCUMULATION OF 4 TO 8 INCHES. SNOW LEVEL NEAR 4500 FEET.

PEOPLE CLIMBING THE MOUNTAIN TODAY SHOULD EXPECT BLIZZARD-LIKE CONDITIONS WITH ZERO VISIBILITY AND BLOWING SNOW ABOVE CAMP MUIR. TEMPERATURES WILL BE BELOW ZERO ON THE SUMMIT. IT IS EXTREMELY DIFFICULT TO MOVE AND NAVIGATE IN ALPINE TERRAIN IN WINDS THIS STRONG.

The official National Weather Service bulletin posted earlier this week at the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center services desk at Mt. Rainier National Park is clear.

Despite these warnings, unprepared visitors arrived this week thinking they would see alpine flowers, all because the calendar marks this coming week as the beginning of summer.

Dressed in shorts and flimsy footwear, they soon turn back when they realize that the snow indeed continues the farther they go up the 14,411 foot mountain. The weather changes by the minute. 

Tuesday evening, snow is falling as predicted.

Inside Paradise Inn, the fire roars, pops, and crackles in one of the historic, massive fireplaces while pianist William Powell plays romantic pieces, as he has for seven seasons, May through October.

The music fills the Inn while folks from all over the United States and the world relax, often with their favorite beverage, sitting deep in cozy chairs and couches, reading books, chatting quietly, or playing games.

Above: The original parts of the Inn were finished in 1917, built without nails from dead standing timber of Alaska yellow cedar harvested near Narada Falls. It took a little less than a year to build. It is designated as a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 

Cellphone reception is non-existent or sporadic at the Inn. Thankfully, one has to get some elevation and climb the mountain to send a message or check email, so making new friends, without the isolating distraction of electronic devices, is easy.

I went to Mt. Rainier this week for a few days of much needed rest, relaxation, reflection, and rejuvenation. I met individuals from Ft. Meyers, Florida to Olympia, Washington and everywhere in between.

The faces of individuals, families, and staff became familiar as we traipsed past each other in pajamas and robes and serious mountain gear, going to and from our rooms, the dining hall, the gift shop or the mountain. It became a little village.

A man from the San Francisco Bay area of Walnut Creek, California sat down in front of the fire one morning with a new book called, Jesus Called, He Wants His Church Back: What Christians and The American Church are Missing by Ray Johnston.

The catchy title provided the impetus for a friendly, brief discussion.  

Earlier, I had sat down in front of the fireplace near a man and a woman who were sharing some cinnamon rolls.

The simple, inclusive question of, “Where are you from?” lead to finding out that the woman was from Michigan, here to summit the mountain on her third try.

The man said, “Olympia.”

Quickly drilling down to the Eastside, “near Ralph’s Thriftway,” to specific streets, it turned out, absurdly, that we live less than 10 houses away from each other. We listed off our mutual neighbors who bridged the gap between our homes and gladly exchanged contact information. 

Above: Crevasse and sky on Mt. Rainier.

Breathing Spaces

What is the relevancy of our national park system in the 21st century?

Congress passed the National Park Service Organic Act in 1916, creating the National Park Service under the U.S. Department of the Interior.  It manages 59 parks and 84 million acres, 78 national monuments and 407 other sites. The first national park was Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

The spiritual and recreational need for designated wilderness and our parks is increasing despite the pressures of population growth, development, usage, and budget shortfalls. 

Mt. Rainier National Park is not immune to these pressures inside and outside its borders.

Created in 1899, the park had 563 recreation visitors in 1904, the first year of recordkeeping. In 2015, there were 1,237,231. Centennial or not, that number will likely be topped in 2016.

The meaning and definition of wilderness has been debated for years but is defined by law as an undeveloped landscape retaining its primeval character. 

Development regulations in national parks vary, with some allowing ski lifts and mining. While real estate development pressures just outside Mt. Rainier’s borders continue, the park has improved the internal conditions seen by past development.

Rope tows and skiing in the Paradise area lasted from the 1930s until the 1970s, nearly 300 cabins and a nine hole golf course were built in 1931, and car camping was allowed in the 1960s in the Paradise meadows. All these are gone and the areas are still being restored.

On Tuesday evening, Mt. Rainier National Park Superintendent Randy King introduced master storyteller and author Terry Tempest Williams, who was speaking as the first in a series of speakers at the park to celebrate the centennial of the National Park Service system.

“It’s a different June today, but it is Paradise,” he laughed.

Several inches of snow was dumped on Mt. Rainier and access roads, as promised, making it look like a mid-winter wonderland instead of the week before summer. But everyone knows that the mountain makes its own weather, and King said it was not unusual.

Terry Tempest Williams, the author of the environmental classic Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place, and When Women Were Birds, An Unspoken Hunger, The Open Space of Democracy, and many more, continues to eloquently share her life experiences and latest research in her new book, The Hour of Land: A Personal Topography of America’s National Parks.

In The Hour of Land, Tempest Williams weaves her personal stories and experiences about 12 national parks - some were new to her, while others were old friends, like Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming.

She said she approached each park profiled in her book with a beginner’s eye, even those that are like her “second skin,” like Grand Teton. Not a year of her life has gone by, she said, without her being at the park.

She spent five years researching for the book, and calls our national parks “breathing spaces.” Her voice warm and soothing, Tempest Williams read passages and invited the audience to discuss their thoughts about and experiences within our national parks.

Mt. Rainier National Park is not featured. Indeed, this was her first visit to the park and Tempest Williams said she was overwhelmed by its magnificence and sense of scale. 

“Whether we see the mountain or not, its presence is felt,” said Tempest Williams.


She told the story of seeing, outside her cabin, a doe and her two little fawns “the size of chihuahuas,” looking as though they had just been born. 

She wants to come back.

Tempest Williams said that when she set out to write the book, she thought it would be joyous, easy, and not complicated. A celebration of love.

“…(The book) is joyous, and it is a celebration, and it is about love – we’re here because of love – but what I didn’t realize is how complicated our national parks are ….and how much I didn’t know....It’s been an exercise in humility, as there is so much more I don’t know. My authority is one of love, and I come to you as a storyteller.”

Above: Grand Teton National Park, 2014. “Our national parks are memory palaces where our personal histories reside....What are we searching for and what do we find?” writes Terry Tempest Williams in her new book, The Hour of Land.

Our national parks have special meaning to Tempest Williams for many reasons. She described her first memory at Canyonlands National Park in Utah and met her husband, Brooke, who was a park ranger, at Zion National Park.

Reading excerpts from her stories, she spoke of the many animals that live in our parks.

“We are not the only species who live, love, and breathe our parks….and I’ll tell you right now, my heart is being broken. The national parks are underfunded and overcrowded. Forty of our parks are threatened by oil and gas development, 12 have development already inside of their boundaries, and 30 more are pending. What do we want our public lands to become?” she asked.

Listening to the stories told to her during her book signing opportunity, she said she heard stories of love.

One couple was celebrating their 36th wedding anniversary and had spent their honeymoon here. One man is on a quest to visit all national parks. So far, he has visited 52. One young man said he was a ranger in Arches National Park.

Another couple in the audience, Bill and Mary Jane Brockman, of Centralia, have a long, personal history with Mt. Rainier National Park, and of volunteering for the park service. It too is a story of love.

Mary Jane Brockman, 88, an early member of The Mountaineers, said she first summited Mt. Rainier when she was 17 years old. She was amazed that her mother allowed her to do so. She recounted her vivid memory of that first summit.

“There’s a sound of the mountain that’s awesome...it’s so vast. It’s silence,” said Mary Jane.

Bill Brockman, 89, was on that same climb and they have been together ever since. 

He and Mary Jane spent the first ten years of their marriage working together in the parks, the first one at the Walnut Creek National Monument in Arizona, the last one at Glacier National Park in Montana. They worked it out so they worked northern parks in summer and southern parks in winter.

Above: The Longmire Museum in Mt. Rainier National Park


Bill Brockman’s father was C. Frank Brockman, one of the first original naturalists for the national park system. He became Mt. Rainier’s chief park naturalist in 1928 and finished out his career at Yosemite and the College of Forestry at the University of Washington. 

The elder Brockman also saved the Longmire Museum, which served as the park’s headquarters from 1916-1928, from demolition and created many of the exhibits that are still in use today.  

Born in Spokane, Bill Brockman came to the park as a two year old and lived as a child in the 1920s in the building that is now the Guide Services building and dormitory for staff. The family then settled in several places at Longmire from1933 until his father was transferred to Yosemite in 1943.

Bill Brockman joined the Navy in 1944, and later became a high school biology teacher. He and his wife operated a ski school for 35 years in Snoqualmie, with 70 instructors at one time, serving hundreds of students. He was a board member of The Mountaineers and REI.

The Brockman's continue to contribute to the park by sharing their experiences, knowledge and stories.

Tempest Williams asked each of us to think about how we can contribute to our parks.

“The national parks are made up of many stories. Think about what you can do to contribute to make sure our national parks continue. Visit them with an open heart to remember what it means to be human….”

Above: The Nisqually River from Mt. Rainier, in June 2014. There are 25 major glaciers on Mount Rainier that support several major river systems, including the Nisqually. The rivers and their tributaries drain down the flanks of the mountain directly to Puget Sound. 


Editor's Clarifications, June 21: The name of the national monument the Brockman's started volunteering at was the Walnut Creek National Monument near Flagstaff, Arizona. Also, the Brockman's did not own the ski school at Snoqualmie, but operated it. For more information, see Mary Jane Brockman's comment under this story.
 

Monday, May 30, 2016

Memorial Day 2016


Above: Members of the Legacy Vets Motorcycle Club honor the addition of the name of Domenick Anthony Spinelli at the Washington State Vietnam Veterans Memorial on the Capitol Campus in Olympia on Monday. Spinelli, of Oak Harbor, is listed missing in action.

By Janine Gates

Memorial Day remembrances were held throughout the South Sound on Monday.

At the Capitol Campus, Major General Thomas S. James, CG, 7th Infantry Division, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, delivered the keynote address for an event at the Capitol Rotunda, sponsored by the Thurston County Veterans Council.

“….Many Americans today do not fully understand the meaning of Memorial Day. We must teach our children that Memorial Day is much more than when swimming pools open for the summer….When you see a service member, tell them you honor their service…Tell them simply, ‘Thanks,’” said James.

At another afternoon ceremony at the Washington State Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the name of Navy Commander Domenick Anthony Spinelli of Oak Harbor, Washington, was added to the wall of names, after a mix up in which his name was accidently placed on the memorial wall in Oak Harbor, Ohio.

Spinelli served in World War II and Vietnam. He was listed missing in action after he and Lt. Larry Van Renselaar were shot down over North Vietnam on September 30, 1968.

According to the Homecoming II Project, with information from government sources, a Radio Hanoi broadcast on October 1, 1968 was received which alluded to the shooting down of an A-6 jet plane on September 30, 1968 over Nghe An Province. The fate of the crew was not mentioned.

Spinelli and Van Renselaar were not among the 591 American prisoners returned at the end of the war. Their families were told returning prisoners had no information about the men.

In 1987, Van Renselaar’s wife called Spinelli’s wife with information that the two men had in fact been captured and that Spinelli had been identified by a Navy pilot held prisoner in Hanoi. Mrs. Van Renselaar found, after reviewing the men’s files, that Spinelli and Van Renselaar had been included on a 1986 negotiation list.

In 1989, Vietnam returned the remains of Lt. Van Renselaar, which were positively identified as Van Renselaar in 1990.

According to the National League of POW/MIA Families, the number of United States personnel missing and unaccounted for from the Vietnam War, as of May 10, is 1,621. Of that number, 38 are from Washington State.

According to live sighting statistics provided by the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, 55 unresolved first-hand reports are the focus of continued efforts: 48 concern Americans reported in a captive environment, and seven are non-captive sightings.

Fourteen of these sightings were reported in 1996 - 2005. One sighting was reported in 2006 - 2013.

If still alive, Spinelli would be 91 years old.


Saturday, May 28, 2016

Chambers Prairie Grange Rezone Recommendation Passes Tumwater Planning Commission


Above:  Tom Schrader untangles the American flag on the historic former Chambers Prairie Grange No. 191 on the corner of Yelm Highway and Henderson Boulevard in Tumwater on Saturday afternoon. 

By Janine Gates

“Everyone honks and wants to talk about the Grange! When I first put up the flag, I was coming down the ladder and didn't even get to the bottom rung. A guy who looked about 35 years old was standing there. He had stopped his car in the middle of the right lane, jumped out, had his hand out, and just said, ‘Thank you - I'm Chuck - really, thank you!’ I said thanks, and before I could say anything else, he was off to his car. Pretty cool….” said Tom Schrader, owner of the Chambers Prairie Grange.

Every day, tens of thousands of eyes are on the property at 1301 Yelm Highway SE. 

The Grange, built in 1910, sits on the somewhat confusing crossroads to and from the cities of Tumwater and Olympia.

Schrader is full of stories told by well-wishers who thank him for buying the property. Supporters often come in the form of visitors walking by, enthusiastic honking from drivers, happy shouts, and hand waving as he works on the property.

Saturday afternoon was no different. Cars honked in continuous, apparent appreciation
as Little Hollywood met Schrader at the property. 

The mossy covered roof is noticeably scraped clean and will soon be replaced with cedar shakes.

The inside is now cleaned out on both floors, the old heat systems and exposed ducts have been removed, new electrical service panels have been installed, a natural gas line and meter has been installed by Puget Sound Energy, remnants of a previously cut down old maple tree and brush have been removed, and architectural and engineering remodel plans have been completed and submitted to the city. 

Meetings with The Farm Homeowners Association, which is adjacent to the property, are ongoing.
Above: Electrical work by Lassen Electric and tree removal was underway in December 2015 at the Chambers Prairie Grange.

Schrader and his wife Tiffany purchased the building in October 2015 with the intention of restoring it and converting it into a neighborhood coffee and sandwich shop.

In order to make that vision happen, the parcel needs to be rezoned. The Tumwater Planning Commission held a public hearing at Tumwater City Hall on Tuesday evening, then passed a site specific rezone recommendation. The recommendation now goes to the Tumwater City Council.

Once in an agricultural area, the Grange is now surrounded by a tangle of different zoning categories.

City staff recommended that the Planning Commission pass the rezone from Single Family Low Density Residential to a category called Community Service, on the basis that the rezone was consistent with the city’s Comprehensive Plan goals.

The room was packed with those wishing to speak at the hearing, most of whom spoke in support of the rezone.

The board of the 95 lot subdivision called The Farm took a neutral position, saying that there is general agreement that it would be in the neighborhood’s best interest for the property to be improved and maintained.

Several residents spoke in opposition to the rezone on the basis of increased traffic, noise, and light concerns. Some did not understand or see the need for a rezone.

City staff said that the current zoning allows up to six single family lots on that parcel and the rezone is below the required threshold for a full traffic impact analysis.

Schrader addressed neighbor concerns in detail and offered to install traffic calming devices within The Farm. He is also open to negotiating specific deed restrictions for behaviors on the property.  He has already agreed to not be open past 10 p.m. on any day, and not past 9 p.m. on Sundays.

Schrader has been open about the fact that he intends to sell the property. It is currently listed for sale, with conditions, for $450,000. A prospective buyer must keep the Grange and work in cooperation with The Farm to keep it in community use. He says he is in conversation with several local businesses who have expressed interest in the property.

“We’re not in the bistro business, or in the historic preservation business….We wanted to keep the Grange, restore it historically, look around, and see that this was great that this was done. It’s going to be something you can be proud of ….It will be a neighborhood bistro. It won’t be a pool hall with fight nights,” Schrader told the planning commissioners at the hearing.

“The zoning change we are requesting is CS, Community Service, which would allow us to keep the Grange, but more importantly, limit how commercial the site could be developed. The CS zoning would actually protect against the property becoming a gas station, or 7-11 minimart, or a five story commercial building….businesses we don’t want at this site, and in this neighborhood,” said Schrader.

A Community Service zone allows at least 22 permitted uses, including general offices, educational institutions and services, a post office or parcel delivery facility, a museum, library, or art gallery, a child care center, an adult family home, a community garden or a farmers market.

Schrader and his wife are former residents of The Farm and Holiday Hills on Ward Lake and began speaking with neighbors at The Farm even before they purchased the property.

The Schrader's knew that a similar application was filed in 2012 by the Washington State Grange for the parcel to be rezoned to mixed use. That group did not speak with neighbors ahead of time, resulting in a poor relationship between the Grange and the neighbors.

“I want to win not for us, but for the Grange and the property…we’re deeply rooted to that corner,” said Schrader.

“…We are aware of possible unsafe traffic through a residential community. With our young kids, as with all parents, safety was always a concern for us…but remember, even without the rezone approval, the site will be developed, and traffic mitigation measures would still need to be reviewed….The new CS Community Service zoning helps keep the historic Grange, and for a use that the Tumwater community will enjoy for decades to come.”

The Planning Commission was unanimous in its recommendation to rezone the Grange parcel.

Commission chair Deborah Reynolds called Schrader's offer to provide traffic calming devices in the subdivision generous.  

Commissioner Nancy Stevenson spoke in support of the rezone, citing the historic value of the Grange, and the unique sense of place it provides the neighborhood.

Commissioner Michael Althauser said he appreciated Schrader’s intentionality and due diligence in meeting with members of The Farm subdivision to address their concerns.

“Ever since I was a little kid I’ve slowly watched it decay over time. It will be a great community center and entrance to Tumwater,” he said.

“It’s the creation of a third place to gather. It would be primarily for people who live nearby. Each neighborhood should have a non-motorized (way to get to a) place to gather,” agreed Commissioner Joel Hansen.

Asked later about the Yelm Highway and Henderson Boulevard intersection, and whether a roundabout is in its future, Jay Eaton, City of Tumwater director of public works, said the intersection is currently operating at an acceptable level of service. 

“The projections out to 2040 show that, at some point, the intersection level of service will fall below desirable.  Improvements to the intersection could include expansion of the intersection to include a second westbound left turn on to Henderson Boulevard or it could include the construction of a roundabout.  Either option would likely provide an acceptable solution,” said Eaton.

Eaton said about 30,000 vehicles per day use the intersection. A little over 3,100 vehicles use the intersection in the afternoon peak hour. 

Indeed, the area is busy. Several pedestrians walked past the Grange property on their way to the Briggs YMCA and Kettle Park to walk their dogs.

Earlier this week, a woman driving by the property in a motorized wheelchair inquired what was going on with the property. After a thorough explanation by Little Hollywood, the woman said she was supportive of the project and would be first in line for a cup of coffee. 

Little Hollywood first reported in November 2015 that the Schrader's had bought the Grange. For photos and the story, go to Little Hollywood, www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.com, and type key words into the search button.

Above: A vintage songbook found in the Grange reminds us all to have fun. (Click on image to enlarge and sing along!)

Monday, May 9, 2016

Housing Development Threatens West Olympia's Green Cove Basin


Above: A preliminary plat application that proposes to subdivide 30 acres in West Olympia near Cooper Point Road and 20th Avenue into 65 to 75 single family lots is slowly inching closer to reality. The property is a spectacular, critical piece of the Green Cove Creek basin containing wetlands, wildlife, and steep, forested ravines. 

Crime Against Nature, Watershed Underway

By Janine Gates
A Little Hollywood Land Use Investigation

A preliminary plat application that proposes to subdivide 30 acres in West Olympia near Cooper Point Road and 20th Avenue into 65 to 75 single family lots is slowly inching closer to reality.

The property is on four tax parcels and owned by The Holt Group, Inc., of Vancouver, Washington.

The wooded property, a spectacular piece of land containing wetlands, wildlife, and natural artesian springs, is a critical piece of the Green Cove Creek Basin, considered by the City of Olympia and Thurston County to be critical aquatic habitat. The proposal includes removal of the trees, site grading and utility installations.

The Green Cove Creek Basin has its own comprehensive plan, adopted by Thurston County in 1998. A Green Cove Basin map produced by the Thurston County Storm and Surface Water Program in 1998 indicates that the area proposed to be developed contains aquifer sensitive areas labeled extreme, high, and moderate.

Some say the Green Cove area, which contains a mosaic of interrelated, delicate wetlands, is the most sensitive aquifer in all of Washington State.

Project History

Little Hollywood has tracked activity on this property since December 30, 2014, when the City of Olympia received a land use application from Will Gruner of The Holt Group for the project known as Parkside on Cooper Point, located at 2200 Cooper Point Rd NW. 

After review, the application was deemed complete in the eyes of the city and considered “vested” by the city on January 14, 2015.

According to city code, the land use “clock” stops and starts when the city requests information of the applicant and the applicant responds. The applicant has six months from the time the clock stops to respond to the city’s questions. When the applicant responds, the clock starts again.

The clock was stopped in April 2015, when the city requested information of the applicant in a 16 page letter. The clock started again when the applicant responded, but it is currently stopped again.

The applicant submitted a redesigned plat to the city on March 23 and the city is awaiting requested information regarding a wetland in the southeast corner of the property, and related engineering issues.

Currently, the applicant has until July 20 to respond to city comments.

Above: Yes, the street weeps. Natural artesian springs flow freely under 20th Avenue NW. Little Hollywood took pictures of the active springs bursting forth out of 20th Avenue on Sunday as well as on other dry days in years past. This road, from Cooper Point, leads to Thurgood Marshall Middle School and Julia Butler Hansen Elementary School, the Goldcrest and Cooper Crest neighborhoods, as well as the new Evergreen Pointe neighborhood near Kaiser Road.

City planner George Steirer was hired last year by the city to handle the application and give it special attention. He is a land use consultant with his own company, Plan To Permit, LLC. Before that, he was a planner with the City of Mercer Island.

His specialty is analyzing the feasibility and review of zoning and land use applications, including subdivisions, shoreline permits, site layouts, rezones, variances, critical area permits, zoning code changes, and comprehensive plan amendments.

When all city questions have been satisfied, the application will be submitted by the applicant at a regularly scheduled land use site review meeting.

Steirer anticipates that the applicant will respond to city concerns and may schedule a site review meeting in June or July.  The site review committee will make a recommendation, and then it will go to the hearing examiner.

It is at this point the public will have a chance to formally weigh in, although Steirer says the city welcomes public comment at all stages of the process. The city is not required to hold another neighborhood meeting about the application as it did in February 2015.

In a telephone interview with Little Hollywood on Friday, Steirer said this site presents special onsite challenges due to its size, the number of lots, and environmentally critical area.

Steirer was asked about discrepancies in the recently redesigned preliminary site plan submitted to the city on March 23, which details 65 single family homes in drawings, while the text indicates 72, and even 75 lots. Steirer agreed the numbers are inconsistent.

“We’ve called them out on that. They’ve updated the drawings but not the text. They know that,” said Steirer.

Steirer said that the applicant is required to do regrading of 20th Avenue and the city is concerned about the impact to the wetland in the southeast corner of the property.

“The city is telling the applicant, much to their chagrin, that the road needs to be widened on 20th to add sidewalks and regraded to meet public safety codes. It will take a significant amount of engineering and earth movement, adding a huge cost to the applicant,” said Steirer.

When asked about the springs weeping through the asphalt on 20th Avenue, Steirer did not seem to know about them.

“Water coming out of the asphalt?” asked Steirer.

Above: The proposed Parkside development is in the critical area of Green Cove Basin, which covers 2,626 acres or 4.1 square miles. The headwaters of Green Cove Creek are located just south of the property and drain all the way to Eld Inlet and Puget Sound.

Green Cove Basin – Death by a Thousand Subdivisions

The headwaters of nearly all the streams in Olympia are located in wetlands.

The 4.1 square-mile Green Cove basin is bounded roughly by Cooper Point Road on the east, Mud Bay Road on the south, Overhulse Road on the west, and Sunset Beach Drive on the north.

The basin, encompassing portions of Olympia’s west side and urbanized areas of Thurston County, was only 24 percent developed in 1999, according to a city report. The basin has approximately 299 acres of wetlands, or 11.8 percent of the total basin area.

Since the 1850s, approximately 250 acres, or 45 percent of historic wetlands have been lost, according to the same city report published in 1999.

The Green Cove Basin drains into the nearby 245 acre Grass Lake wetland refuge, home to chinook, coho, chum, steelhead, sea-run cutthroat trout, western brook lamprey and Olympic mudminnows.

Green Cove Creek runs about 3.6 miles, and originates at the outlet of Lake Louise and flows through extensive wetlands, where the channel sometimes disappears. 

After crossing under Evergreen Parkway, the creek enters a forested area. At about 1,200 feet south of 36th Avenue NW, the creek steepens and enters a steep, forested ravine which confines the creek until it reaches the mudflats and passes in a flat straight channel into Eld Inlet at Green Cove. An unnamed tributary joins the creek south of Evergreen Parkway.

The Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) uses Green Cove Creek from the mouth to Evergreen Parkway as an index stream for chum salmon. Coho remain in the creek and seek out wetlands and slow-water areas to rear for up to one year before migrating to saltwater.

Coho have been observed at least as far upstream as the second culvert under Kaiser Road by the sewer lift station. The DFW releases coho fingerlings to the creek at the outlet to Lake Louise.

The area is home to Olympic mudminnows, which have been scientifically captured, photographed, and released on site by Wild Fish Conservancy Northwest, less than 500 feet from the proposed development. Olympic mudminnows are found in limited locales in western Washington and nowhere else in the world.

“Historically, Cooper Point sustained vast tracks (sic) of wetlands – prime mudminnow habitat. Grass Lake and Lake Louise are two remnant examples of what much of the Point looked like in recent history. The loss of…existing forest areas and associated functions…will alter the existing hydrology of the site and the adjacent hydrologically connected streams and wetland. The burden is on the applicant to demonstrate otherwise, and we feel this burden has not been met,” wrote Jamie Glasgow, director of science and research for Wild Fish Conservancy Northwest, to the City of Olympia in 2015.

Other entities such as the city parks department, the Olympia School District, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and individuals have weighed in on the project as it has progressed.

Timothy Byrne, who was then capital planning and construction supervisor for the school district, said Hansen Elementary School is currently over capacity and has no room for additional students.

“If the Parkside Plat project is approved, the Olympia School District will consider modifying its current service boundary area to ensure elementary students generated from this proposed development attend L.P. Brown Elementary School,” wrote Byrne in his February 2015 letter to the city.

Westside’s Watchful Neighbors 

Several neighbors in the area have been watching the situation closely, but no one knows the area better than Olympia’s westside land use watchdog, 88 year old Jim Elliott.

Elliott knows the area around Cooper Point Road and 20th Avenue intimately: his mother and father homesteaded the area in the early 1900s, and at one point, the family owned 40 acres from 20th Avenue to Division Street. His family’s log cabin home still stands near the corner of Cooper Point and 20th Avenue.

In an interview with Little Hollywood last year, Elliott said that on June 18, 2015, he witnessed a truck unloading a bulldozer near the southeast corner of the property, and wondered what was going on.

He contacted his friend and neighbor, Roger Robinson, who investigated, and discovered that an egregious crime against nature had just taken place: the bulldozer had been used to enter the property to bury a natural artesian spring containing a well that Elliott’s father and uncle had put in over 70 years ago.

The wetland was brutally filled in. It is a federal crime to bury a wetland.

Robinson contacted City of Olympia planner Catherine McCoy, who was then in charge of the project, and told her about the destruction.

Speaking with Little Hollywood at the time, McCoy said the owner had the required permits and was just doing work in preparation for information requested by the city and the state.  She confirmed that she had been out on the property just a week prior to the incident with Alex Callender, wetland specialist for the Washington State Department of Ecology for the purpose of surveying the property.

Habitat Preservation: An Olympia Community Priority

In April 2015, an online Elway Poll was conducted on behalf of the city Parks, Arts and Recreation Department as part of the department's effort to include citizen opinions and priorities in the planning for programs and facilities.

This report summarizes the results of a random sample survey of 759 Olympia citizens. Water quality, wildlife habitat, public access and scenic value were each rated by more than 90 percent as important reasons to preserve open space. 

Neighborhood parks were ranked as the "most needed" type of park in Olympia with large natural areas following close behind.

In a question regarding habitat preservation, the preservation of wetland habitat was ranked as the most important type of wildlife habitat to protect. Mature forest land, wildlife species and Budd Inlet shoreline were not far behind in the ranking.

Trails, natural open spaces and improved maintenance were ranked at the top priorities for the department as suggested by citizens at community forums.

The city’s Habitat and Stewardship Strategy identified the need for active stewardship across the entire Green Cove landscape to lessen the ongoing indirect effects of urbanization.

Thad Curtz, chair of the city’s Utility Advisory Committee, wrote a letter in February 2014 in support of the City of Olympia’s application for the National Estuary Program Watershed Protection and Restoration Grant. 

His letter specifically addresses the Green Cove Basin and the city’s Habitat and Stewardship Strategy, which uses a watershed-based framework to identify and prioritize the city’s habitat acquisition and restoration needs.

“The Strategy prioritizes the Green Cove basin in northwest Olympia. The basin is unique and has a history of natural resources study and protection work. It was the focus of extensive work in 1998-2001 to create one of the first comprehensive environmentally-based zoning districts in the Puget Sound region….”

Jim Elliott, who still lives near his family homestead, doesn’t need to be told by any city “strategy” what to protect or how to protect it.

“It’s a mess. The city speaks with a forked tongue,” he said on Friday.

For more information about the proposed Parkside development, contact George Steirer, City of Olympia planner, Community Planning & Development, 601 4th Avenue East, Olympia, WA 98507-1967 or gsteirer@ci.olympia.wa.us. He does not have a city phone number.

Above:  The Elliott family’s log cabin home still stands near the corner of Cooper Point and 20th Avenue, in view of a proposed new housing development.