New forested park a 'game changer' for North Kitsap —

New forested park a 'game changer' for North Kitsap

By Tristan Baurick
Kitsap Sun

PORT GAMBLE — First came a pair of horseback riders. Then an elderly hiker. Then a mountain biker, veering onto the old logging road from a well-used trail.

A caravan of SUVs packed with politicians and preservationists, here to tour Kitsap County’s newest park, had to slow or stop several times to make way for the dozens of people already enjoying this forested playground.

The fact is, the 535-acre property — known unofficially as the Port Gamble Shoreline Block — has long been used as a park, thanks to the open-door policy of Pope Resources, the timber company that owned it for more than a century.

Now, said Kitsap County Commissioner Rob Gelder, that doorway to outdoor recreation will never be closed.

“No houses will be built here,” he said. “People should be excited because it’s a game-changer for the community as a whole.”

Gelder led a motor tour of the property on April 18 before an evening party was thrown in Port Gamble to celebrate its purchase. He was joined by state legislators and representatives of the groups that helped bring the property into public ownership, including the Great Peninsula Conservancy and the North Kitsap Trails Association.

Purchased for $4.65 million in February, the property protects valuable marine, freshwater and forest habitats, and will give both locals and tourists an attractive place to recreate, Gelder said.

The Port Gamble Shoreline Block is the first acquisition envisioned in the ambitious Kitsap Forest & Bay Project. Its aim is to set aside 6,700 acres of North Kitsap timberland for trails and habitat preservation. No official park name has been chosen for the yet, but county projects manager Eric Baker believes “heritage” will be included. The county’s other forested parks —such as Banner Forest and Newberry Hill — have
heritage in their names.
The property’s most prominent feature is its 1.5 miles of shoreline on the west side of Port Gamble Bay. It’s one of the longest stretches of preserved shoreline on Hood Canal. Highway 104 cuts through the property, separating the forest from the 200-foot-wide sliver of land running along the shoreline. The highway and the shoreline’s high bluffs mean the beach won’t be easily accessible from the forest. One or two shore viewing spots and a possible switchback trail to the beach are planned.

The forested portion is crisscrossed by trails and logging roads that have been popular with outdoor enthusiasts for years. The trails tie into a larger network of paths stretching from Port Gamble to the Stottlemeyer Road trailhead more than four miles to the south.

“The best part is that you can get complete exercise and then go get barbecue,” state Sen. Christine Rolfes said during the tour, noticing one of the trails ends near Port Gamble’s restaurants.

The property has a small gravel parking area on 104 about a mile south of Port Gamble.

What you see is likely what you’ll get, Baker said. No significant improvements are planned for the near future, and trail maintenance will largely fall to the property’s user groups.

The planned Sound to Olympics Trail will eventually pass through the property. The trail’s proposed route stretches from Winslow on Bainbridge Island to the Hood Canal bridge. From there it, will may connect to the Olympic Discovery Trail, which wanders west past Port Angeles.

“This is a big building block for the trail,” Gelder said.
Much of the property was logged 40 or 50 years ago. Now dominated by thick stands of firs and alders, it likely would have been logged again in the near future. Houses, lawns and roads would come next, Baker said, noting that Pope Resources has long planned to develop the site for a couple dozen homes.

The county is taking steps to increase the property’s forest diversity. Since February, thousands of cedars have been planted, and plans are taking shape to selectively log areas that are so thickly wooded that the forest floor is nearly of bare of ferns and shrubs.

The property was purchased with a series of grants and contributions, including $1.25 million from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, $1 million from National Coastal Wetlands Conservation Program and $1 million from the Washington Aquatic Lands Enhancement Account.
Read the complete story at Kitsap Sun
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