Community Environment Government

Grant helps move North Creek land purchase closer to reality

Posted on April 18th, 2022 By:

Thanks in part to a $20,000 grant from the Russell Family Foundation, the Gig Harbor Land Conservation Fund has already achieved a key benchmark toward acquiring 5.15 acres of forested land near Donkey Creek Park.

The recently-launched Conservation Fund had been planning a fundraising campaign for this week, hoping to raise $50,000 to contribute to the city of Gig Harbor’s purchase of the property. The Russell Foundation grant, announced by the Conservation Fund last week, put it over the top.

“We are extremely thankful to them,” Robyn Denson, a conservation fund board member and Gig Harbor City Council member, told a Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce gathering on Thursday.

The property is adjacent to Austing Street and Donkey Creek Park.

The property is adjacent to Austin Street and Donkey Creek Park. Photo courtesy of city of Gig Harbor

Gig Harbor Land Conservation Fund’s role

The Conservation Fund works to preserve undeveloped property in the greater Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula area, but not by buying land directly. Instead, the fund raises money to help other nonprofits and local governments buy and protect undeveloped property.

The owner of the 5.15 acres, located just east of Harborview Drive and just north of Donkey Creek Park, has already agreed to sell the property to the city of Gig Harbor.

The property is referred to as Phase 3 of the North Creek Salmon Heritage site. It connects to phases 1 and 2, which are adjacent and comprise more than 35 acres of undeveloped property fronting North Creek. Gig Harbor is already under contract to purchase the first two phases.

Conservation Futures Grant

The city is seeking a Pierce County Conservation Futures Grant to cover the purchase of Phase 3.

The Conservation Futures grant requires matching funds from the local community, which the Land Conservation Fund is providing.

An advisory board for the Conservation Futures program has already recommended the North Creek project. Denson said by the Pierce County Council could approve it in the next couple of weeks. The sale is tentatively expected to close on May 18.

Preserving the property is important for a number of reasons, city officials said.

First, it connects with other publicly-owned properties, including Donkey Creek Park and earlier North Creek phases. Altogether, they total a little more than 40 acres of forestland. That provides valuable habitat and a critical wildlife passage corridor.

Second, the 5.15 acre site could be developed into 18 homes and a new road if not acquired by the city . The land had previously been approved for a direct discharge exemption. That means unfiltered stormwater would have flowed into the mouth of North Creek if the 18 homes had been developed.

“Stormwater running over hard surfaces like roads picks up chemicals, sediment, pollutants,” Land Conservation Fund board member Michael Behrens, a marine ecology professor at Pacific Lutheran University, told last week’s Gig Harbor Chamber Public Affairs Forum. “That goes without treatment into streams. We want to create or maintain systems where that stormwater is treated naturally.”

Site Map showing subdivisions

Site map showing subdivisions Map courtesy of city of Gig Harbor

History

The property also is the historical site of the txʷaalqəł village of the sxʷəbabč people, the original residents of the Gig Harbor area. Shell middens and other artifacts have been found in the area.

Denson said the Puyallup Tribe has a strong interest in protecting the North Creek area, which is part of that tribe’s traditional lands.

Raising the matching funds for the North Creek property purchase is the first major success for the Land Conservation Fund. More than 100 people have already contributed since the fund was founded in January.

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Some 80 of them contributed specifically to preserve the 5.15 acres along North Creek. Many of them were smaller donations.

“A gift of $25 to $50 to the land fund makes a difference,” Denson said. “We’re going to be able to do great work.”