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Fox Island Group Eyes Woods, Wetlands

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Kris Sherman; The News Tribune
August 31st, 2004

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Fox Island residents are hoping to raise at least $25,000 by the end of September to help buy a 5-acre parcel of deep woods and wetlands and preserve it as a shelter for animals and a sanctuary for humans.

The Fox Island Community & Recreation Association wants to buy the land, which lies on Ninth Avenue, 165 feet south of the Nichols Community Center, 'before someone bulldozes the property to build a home,' association president John Ohlson wrote in an e-mail newsletter to island residents.

Ohlson noticed the 'For Sale' sign on the property while driving to a recent association meeting.

'I thought, 'Hmmm, we should look into this,'' he recalled, noting that new-home construction is rapidly changing the landscape on the rural island across from the southern tip of the Gig Harbor Peninsula.

He hopes the association can buy it, put in some hiking trails, build footbridges across wetland areas and turn it into a mini version of Tacoma's Snake Lake Nature Center.

He describes the Ninth Avenue parcel as a 'pristine greenbelt' with a small stream; stands of alder, fir, cedar and hemlock; and an array of plant life, including salmonberry, holly, ivy, horse tails, salal, huckleberry, Oregon grape, ferns, nurse logs with lichen and other 'rain forest' mosses and wetland plants.

The landowner is offering the parcel to the association for $55,000 - a substantial discount from the original $120,000 price tag, Ohlson said. There was one offer on the property, but the prospective buyers backed out when they learned of the costly wetlands mitigation required to build a home there.

The association already has raised about $6,000, Ohlson said. That plus the $25,000 they hope to raise by Sept. 30 would be combined with money from the group's treasury to complete the purchase. Ohlson said he hopes long-term fund raising will eventually pay the total cost of the land plus low-impact improvements and upkeep.

If the group can't raise the $25,000, it likely will borrow against the Nichols Community Center, Ohlson said.

The community association has about 300 dues-paying members but is open to residents of all 1,500 or so homes on the island.

The community association is offering memorial tiles on the community center walkway at $250 each to help raise money. Down the road, Ohlson envisions expanding the community center area further, with perhaps a swimming pool and other recreational amenities as well as the nature preserve.

The idea of community groups combining resources to preserve pieces of the landscape is a proud tradition in the Gig Harbor area.

Four years ago, the Fox Island Chapel Preservation Society raised $240,000 to buy the then-99-year-old Chapel on Echo Bay to preserve it as a site for community concerts and other events. Two years ago, the Peninsula Heritage Land Trust chapter of the Great Peninsula Conservancy led a successful drive to buy the 98-acre Sehmel property in Gig Harbor for a regional park.

The land trust also was instrumental in saving wetlands at Wollochet and Artondale creeks.

Now, the conservancy is working to acquire about 96 acres with nearly a mile of shoreline on the foot of the Key Peninsula at Devil's Head, said Don Duprey, director of conservation programs.

He was impressed when he heard about the Fox Island project.

'Clearly, it's important to the community,' he said. Taking the initiative to arrange a private sale 'shows that you don't necessarily need a government to step in' and buy the property, he said.

'There's a saying that goes, 'All politics is local.' Well, I think good conservation is always local.'

Kris Sherman: 253:597-8659

See more about the Fox Island Nature Center and how it came about.

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