‘This land has had an amazing transformation’

Reforested acreage is home to bear, beaver, fish and birds

KINGSTON — Brothers John and Doug Helton have many memories of helping their grandfather Edward Niemeier clear brush on the old stump farm he bought in the late 1940s. They remember wandering the property as young boys in search of old fragments of yellow and blue blasting wire — a reminder of the dynamite that was used to dislodge big, old-growth stumps.

Niemeier had a law practice in Poulsbo and bought 120 acres south of Kingston on Grovers Creek as a hobby farm. He raised cattle and built the barn that now sits at the Miller Bay Road entrance to North Kitsap Heritage Park.

In the early days, trees were allowed to regenerate naturally on much of the property not used for cattle. In the 1970s, the remaining land was replanted in trees. Now, more than four decades later, the forest has returned. Today, the former stump farm is a vibrant forest, with extensive wetlands and branches of Grovers Creek crossing the property.

The Helton brothers inherited the land in 2000 and considered options for its future. Having previously worked with conservation groups in both Washington and Montana to conserve land, it was an easy decision for them to sell their 80 acres to Great Peninsula Conservancy to protect forever. Now part of the conservancy’s 280-acre Grovers Creek Preserve, the land is home to bear, beaver, steelhead, coho, cutthroat trout, and countless birds.

“This land has had an amazing transformation from stump farm to beautiful forest in about 70 years — a human lifespan,” said Sandra Staples-Bortner, executive director of Great Peninsula Conservancy. “We know the community is eager to see its continued transition to old-growth forest in the next century. What a gift to future generations.”

Funds for the purchase were received from Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, Salmon Recovery Program and private donors.

Great Peninsula Conservancy is a nonprofit land trust working to protect forever the natural habitats, rural landscapes, and open spaces of Kitsap, north Mason, and western Pierce counties. Great Peninsula Conservancy has protected over 8,500 acres of this region of west Puget Sound, including forests, saltwater shorelines, salmon streams, and wildlife-rich estuaries.