On the northeastern corner of Washington’s iconic Olympic Peninsula lies Chimacum Valley, a rich agricultural area and vibrant local community deeply committed to caring for the lands where they make their home. Historic dairyland has continued to be farmed, evolving into a landscape of small organic farms, farmstead dairies, and orchards.
A big cheerful sign at the main crossroads in town greets visitors: “Welcome to Chimacum: We grow food for you.”
These rich farmlands are nestled beneath Chimacum Ridge, a lush green forest that filters water to 19 tributaries flowing into the valley and feeding critical salmon streams, including both branches of Chimacum Creek, a critical source of water for local farms, as well as habitat for chum, pink, cutthroat and coho salmon.
This is a landscape defined by connectivity — the forests, farmlands, and waterways are tightly connected — and so are the nearly 2,000 members of the local community.
But it is also a landscape and a way of life that face increasing challenges of population growth, development, and land use.
Despite its rural location, a 13 percent population increase in recent years has sparked a transition from forests and farmland to residential development. Under threat of more intensive development, and after decades of restoration efforts, local residents and community groups in Jefferson County have been building innovative approaches to protect the working lands and streams that are at the heart of their community.
A forest runs through it
Ecotrust is proud to be a part of these efforts. In partnership with the Jefferson Land Trust and the Trust for Public Land, Ecotrust Forest Management (EFM), a for-profit subsidiary of Ecotrust, has protected 850 acres on Chimacum Ridge from development through the sale of a permanent conservation easement held by the U.S. Navy and arranged by the Trust for Public Land. Chimacum Ridge has been managed for timber production for decades, most recently by Rayonier timber company.
When Rayonier evaluated opportunities to sell the land last year, they sought out a collaborative venture that would ensure the long-term conservation of this special place. In a process facilitated by the Trust for Public Land, EFM acquired Chimacum Ridge and entered into a bridge ownership agreement with Jefferson Land Trust, creating an opportunity for the land trust to arrange the public and philanthropic financing required to acquire the property in phases over the next seven years.
This critical bridge provides Jefferson Land Trust the time to raise acquisition capital and work with local stakeholders to create a community forest. In the interim, Ecotrust Forest Management is working with the Land Trust to establish a model of forestry that generates high-quality timber for local and regional uses, creates jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities for local residents, provides recreation and scenic beauty, and enhances habitat for fish and wildlife.
The hope is that this interim management approach will be made permanent through Jefferson Land Trust’s acquisition. And, this unique partnership will connect the highly visible, landmark property on the ridge to adjacent lands across the valley, representing nearly 2,000 contiguous areas of preserved working farms, forests, and salmon streams.
“This is a landscape defined by connectivity, from the forests, farmlands, and waterways to the 2,000 members of the local community.”
A cider that’s good for soil
Just downstream of the forest, where Chimacum Creek winds its way through the valley, we are also supporting a group of family farmers who are taking an all-lands approach to their business — infusing their delicious home-grown products with a mission to building a healthy regional food system and vibrant rural farm community.
Finnriver Farm and Cidery is an organic family farm and an artisan cidery producing handcrafted hard cider and fruit wines in the heart of Chimacum Valley. Partners Keith and Crystie Kisler and Eric Jorgensen founded the cidery in 2008 and now have several thousand heirloom cider trees in the ground, alongside a working farm on 50 acres, and a lively cidery and farm store. Working with Jefferson Land Trust, they have put permanent land conservation easements in place across the property that link the farm to the adjacent forest and watershed, permanently protecting it from development.
With support from a USDA value-added producer grant, Ecotrust is working with Finnriver to grow their business in a way that supports our shared missions to support stewardship of our lands and waters alongside lively local economies.
A hub for an extended multi-generational neighborhood of families and farm crew, as well as a regular gathering place for the surrounding community, Finnriver demonstrates the creativity and commitment in Chimacum that has garnered national recognition for a community of less than 2,000 people.
Ecotrust and Ecotrust Forest Management are excited to play a part in these innovative approaches to all-lands management and see Chimacum as an inspiration for other rural communities in our region who are facing the challenges of development pressures and the preservation of working land — from forests to farms to fisheries.