A New State Park on Harstine Island

April 29, 2011

A grandfather’s wish comes true

The weather was cold and misty as staff
from The Trust for Public Land (TPL),
members of the Scott family, and state
and county officials boarded the chartered boat
bound for South Puget Sound on September 23rd.
The group gathered to celebrate a decades-long
effort to save a cherished place—so even the
rain couldn’t dampen their enthusiasm.

TPL just helped Washington State Parks (WSP), acquire 112 acres of the Scott’s property on Harstine Island, outside of Olympia. For years,
park administrators eyed the property as a potential
state park, not only for its unspoiled beach and thick
forests, but also because it provided the only land
access to another state park on McMicken Island–by
way of a tombolo, or sand spit, visible during low
tide.

The Scott family had owned the land since 1949 when the family patriarch, Walter Scott, moved
to the Island with his wife and five children.
Although contracted to log the island, Walter spared significant parts of this parcel and early on
considered it an almost mystical place.
“My grandfather used to spend hours wandering
the canyons on the property, looking up at the
huge alders and maples,” says Richard Scott, one
of Walter’s grandsons. “He wanted everyone to
have a chance to share that experience.”

An unspoiled beach gets protected

As the boat neared the island, the rain
stopped and the skies cleared, almost
on cue. The passengers moved to the boat’s
deck to get a closer look.
“Viewing the Scott property from the water made
people truly understand why it is so important,”
says Nelson Mathews, TPL Project Director and
the event’s MC. “Here you don’t see any houses
poking through the trees. It’s amazing that the
piece was preserved.”
Richard Scott agrees. “No one really knows why
it never got developed. It’s kind of a miracle.”

The Scott family used the property solely for
recreation after Walter’s death in the mid 60s.
Then, in 1991, the land was fragmented into fifteen
5-acre tracts and divided among Walter’s heirs. Richard, along with his brother Russell and
father Walter Jr, envisioned the property as a
state park to honor their grandfather. The brothers
approached the parks department, but discussions
never ended in a sale. There were so many
landowners that it was difficult for all of the
family members to reach a consensus.

The property was posted for sale on and off for
fifteen years, but never left family ownership.
Then, in 2008, the remaining landowners and
heirs agreed that it was time to sell and the land
was zoned for development.

Richard and Russell saw an opportunity. After
a friend introduced the brothers to TPL, they
invited staff to walk the land and hear their story.
“The property fit right in with our long-term strategy
to save the shoreline,” says Nelson.
“It provides a chance for people to put their
feet in the water and reconnect with the Sound.”

Nelson contacted Washington State Parks, who backed the project 110%.
“We were as interested as ever,” says Bill Koss,
the state park’s Planning and Program Manager,
now retired. “The property still had all the virtues
we recognized years ago.”

Richard and Russell purchased the remaining tracts
from their family and sold the property to TPL and
WSP. Federal and state grants, as well as private
donations paid for the acquisition. WSP is currently
planning the park’s development.

An end and a beginning

The mood on board shifted as the boat made
its way home. Excitement mellowed to
reverence, anticipation to inspiration.
“This is the end to a long journey,” says Richard.
“We were always meant to steward the land,
never live on it.”

Although the property includes nearly a mile
and a half of protected beach, it represents just a
sliver of the Sound’s vulnerable shoreline. More
needs to be done, and TPL and its partners are
working every day to make that happen.
Adds Bill, “It’s projects like these that reaffirm
our diligence and commitment to keep
working together.”