Giant aspen tower overhead in the Quaking Aspen Wetland in Quimper Wildlife Corridor. This aspen wetland is a unique occurrence on the Olympic Peninsula
Imagine Port Townsend in 2050, after another half century of growth, when the dense thickets of forest and shrubs we now take for granted are replaced by rooftops and backyard trees. Where will the birds and frogs have gone? Where will we, our children and grandchildren, go to experience the Quimper Peninsula as it was before it was covered with streets and buildings?
The answer can be the Quimper Wildlife Corridor, a refuge for birds and animals where native plants thrive in a natural and protected setting. A quiet place where paths lead people through mature forests and along wetland streams in a natural world that seems distant from the small city surrounding it.
This is not just dream or speculation, but a real project that has been in the works for more than ten years, spearheaded by the Jefferson Land Trust and now bolstered by the city of Port Townsend with recent adoption of the QWC Plan.
A “ribbon of green,” the QWC follows the natural drainage path across the Quimper Peninsula, inland but paralleling the shoreline. It stretches three and a half miles from Middlepoint to Fort Worden and includes six distinct wetlands and wildlife habitat areas. Much of the area is already familiar to residents since many of Cappy’s Trails are in the Corridor as are Tibbels Lake and Chinese Gardens.
“This peninsula is unique on a global as well as local perspective,” says naturalist Dr. Fred Sharpe. “There is such rich biodiversity here, especially in the low wet areas of the Corridor.” He noted that the wildlife Corridor is one of a string of green refuges, including Olympic Peninsula parks and forests, Gibbs Lake, Old Fort Townsend, and others.
The concept of a wildlife Corridor in Port Townsend was formed in 1992. In compliance with the state’s Growth Management Act, the city and county were developing plans for appropriate land use given the area’s rapid growth. One of the plan’s stated goals was to protect wetlands, fish and wildlife habitat and flood plains.
At the same time Kathleen Mitchell, local resident and Evergreen State College student, prepared a report on the feasibility of developing a wildlife Corridor in Port Townsend.
“I had walked and ridden my horse throughout Cappy’s Trails, and realized what a great opportunity we had with this large expanse of open space,” remembers Kathleen. “We had a unique and high quality habitat that needed to be studied, defined and protected.” In the paper she identified seven specific habitat areas that are still part of the QWC.
“Individuals in the city and county were supportive, and agreed that the Corridor could serve multiple purposes,” says Kathleen. Keeping the low areas undeveloped meant they would continue to be natural drainage fields for the area. And the Corridor would provide protection for wildlife and native vegetation, and a place for people to find quiet in a natural and nurturing environment.
In 1995 the Jefferson Land Trust adopted the QWC as its first proactive project. Over the years JLT has raised capital and now owns parcels totaling 12 acres. But much more remains to be done to acquire the amount of land needed to keep the Corridor intact.
With the support of the city and the pressure of urban growth, the JLT is putting renewed energy into the QWC project. Heidi Eisenhour, Land Trust Executive Director says, “We have ambitious plans to acquire critical property in the Corridor, because once it is bulldozed and paved it can never be recovered.”
Community support is big as evidenced at the annual RainFest Auction where over $40,000 was raised for the Corridor project.
Importance of a Corridor
Corridors link areas of prime habitat and allow animals room to move within the natural setting. Some of the smallest animals, the newts and tree frogs, need to move between water sources. The small birds find safety in the dense forest where nests and young are hidden from predators.
Over 120 species of birds are found in the Corridor, but that number may grow as the forest matures and more food and cover is provided, according to Ron Sikes of the Admiralty Audubon Society.
The Corridor provides a place in which animals can move without encroaching on peoples’ neighborhoods. Rough Grouse and Wood Duck may join the owls, hawks, woodpeckers, and songbirds that currently inhabit the area. In addition, small and large creatures such as frogs, newts, elk, cougars and mink would have a rich Corridor in which to move and feed thus making human neighborhoods less attractive.