Environment Government

Conservation grants help add to city’s North Creek property

Posted on August 16th, 2023 By:

Pierce County conservation grants could fund three local projects over the next two years.

The Conservation Futures program would largely pay for Gig Harbor’s purchase of a fourth North Creek phase, PenMet Parks’ acquisition of two waterfront parcels adjacent to Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit on Fox Island and to procure land beside Haley State Park on Key Peninsula.

Two other peninsula conservation endeavors — at Nelyaly Creek in Rosedale and Little Minter Creek on Key Peninsula — could get money if any of the current biennium’s projects don’t proceed.

map of North Creek conservation area in Gig Harbor

The city is in negotiations to buy an 11.4-acre property that would be added at the conservation area’s north end. It would be Phase 4.

Preliminary approval

The county’s Community Development Committee approved the advisory board’s project ratings Wednesday afternoon. They’ll go before the full county council in September for final approval, Councilwoman Robyn Denson said.

A $596,000 grant will extend Gig Harbor’s txʷaalqəł Conservation Area. The city in 2022 bought two properties between Burnham Drive and the Cushman Trail through which North Creek flows and another across Harborview Drive just north of the creek.

In May, the City Council voted to name the combined parcels the txʷaalqəł Conservation Area. The sxʷəbabč people, a band of what became the Puyallup Tribe, lived in a village there. In the Lushootseed language, txʷaalqəł means “place where game is found.”

Now Gig Harbor is negotiating to purchase another 11.4 abutting acres to the north that would push the total conservation area to 51.9 acres.

Willing sellers

A Federal Way couple owns the property and wants to sell it, according to the grant application. It is within the city’s urban growth area, zoned residential and the largest vacant land close to downtown. The county assessed it this year at $319,800. The city conducted an appraisal, and the owners are getting a second opinion, said Parks Manager Jennifer Haro.

Denson, a former city council member elected to the county council during the grant process, led pursuit of the property. She mentioned it to Haro when the city hired her in November.

“She thought it would be a great project because it’s 11 acres immediately north of those properties we have,” said Haro. “It’s been owned a long time by a family that lives out of town. So we partnered with the Great Peninsula Conservancy and they did the outreach to the property owners, the application for Conservation Futures, hired the appraiser and all of that.”

The conservancy receives a forest management plan, ban on commercial timber harvesting, protection of sensitive areas, signage and public access. It has provided technical help and support on all four phases of the conservation area.

North Creek conservation area in Gig Harbor

Phase 4 would be similar to Phases 1 and 2 through which North Creek runs. Photo courtesy of city of Gig Harbor

“The property would be an excellent addition to the North Creek Salmon Heritage Site for both people and wildlife,” said GPC Conservation Director Erik Steffens. “It would protect an additional 500 feet of North Creek in an important reach for both juvenile and returning spawning salmon.”

10% match required

Denson wears a third hat in the acquisition — as co-founder of Gig Harbor Land Conservation Fund. The organization has committed to raising the 10% in matching dollars needed for the city’s grant. It was created about 1 ½ years ago for that purpose.

Denson said county parks department staffers asked about the property during a tour of the Phase 3 property last year. “Because they know that it would be so valuable keeping North Creek clean and cold,” she said. “The more forest canopy, the better when it moves downstream.

“It’s very similar to the two other properties along North Creek, just a gorgeous understory of ferns and beautiful trees. It’s real dense around the creek, which is very important to keep it cool for the fish and filtering as the water is rushing downstream. There’s lots of wildlife and it’s very rich ecologically, and it’s also part of that (native) village so it’s culturally important as well to our community.”

The purchase is contingent on a sales agreement and approval by the City Council.

Fox Island sandspit beach where it would be extended with more property

PenMet is trying to purchase two waterfront properties to the west of Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit Park.

3.57 acres near DeMolay Sandspit

PenMet Parks has been trying to buy two parcels adjacent to Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit Nature Preserve for more than a year. It sought a $2.5 million Conservation Futures Opportunity Grant, awarded between biennial cycles for exceptional properties that can’t wait until the regular application period. The district declined a $538,000 offer. The owner waited, and PenMet reapplied. This time, the grant program awarded $2.3 million, requiring a 12% match.

The PenMet Parks board originally had voted at a July 2022 special meeting to move forward with the purchase of property. Given the large funding gap, the board authorized Executive Director Ally Bujacich at its May 16, 2023, meeting to apply for another Conservation Futures grant during this regular selection cycle. The deadline was May 24.

According to the resolution, “PenMet Parks desires to participate in this grant program to the greatest extent possible as a means of supplementing the funds necessary to purchase the Island Blvd. properties.”

The two skinny, side-by-side parcels stretch from Island Boulevard to Carr Inlet and total 3.57 acres. They are mostly wooded with some steep slopes, 265 feet of waterfront and westward views of Key Peninsula and the Olympic Mountains.

Cabins, bulkheads come out

Each property contains a 760-square-foot cabin built in 1950. The agreement requires removal of the cabins and beach bulkheads. Pierce County assesses the parcels’ combined value at $2.2 million.

“We are thrilled for the opportunity to potentially preserve nearly 300 feet of shorelines and upland forests for our community at this treasured Fox Island property,” said PenMet Park Services Director Denis Ryan. “If acquired, this property would allow the district to expand the Tacoma DeMolay Sandspit Nature Preserve footprint and increase saltwater beach access, which is a priority that has been identified by our community.”

The grant is contingent upon reaching a sales agreement and board approval.

“They will enlarge the park, provide more beach access for the public, and that’s already a very popular park. It’s so beautiful,” Denson said. “It’s just wonderful to have more shoreline in conservation for the public’s enjoyment. I’m very supportive of anything that helps residents and visitors enjoy our beautiful Puget Sound while protecting it.”

60 acres near Haley State Park

Great Peninsula Conservancy also is sponsoring purchase of 60 acres adjacent to 275-acre Haley State Park and across from Washington State Fish & Wildlife’s Jackson Lake access. It received a $1.8 million grant requiring a 10% match.

Forest being put into conservancy next to Haley State Park

Sixty acres that fronts Jackson Lake Road and abuts Haley State Park is bound for conservancy.

The property features a mature secondary forest with an undisturbed understory and few invasive plants, according to the application. It contains a 1/3-mile trail that connects to the Haley system that leads down to Case Inlet. A 48-year-old unfinished cottage would be removed.

The absentee owner wants to sell. The county assessed the residential property at 3808 Jackson Lake Road at $777,900.

Like the North Creek property, the conservancy would require a forest management plan, disallow commercial timber harvesting and open it to the public.

“It’s a real jewel,” Denson described the Haley environs after speaking to residents. “They said it’s just gorgeous. There’s a little lagoon and wetlands and stream. They said it’s just amazing ecologically. It’s very important and wonderful that we can add this contiguous holding for wildlife and public enjoyment.”