Stimpson Family Nature Reserve

By Rob Rich, Naturalist

THE DAY BEGAN with gray, deceptively ordinary Bellingham skies. But eight miles away, the parking lot bustled at the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve. Something was happening. People clustered, chatting like crows. Hidden in the breezing alders, yellowthroats joined with songs of wichity-wichity-which. A man drove by on Lake Louise Road and craned his head with curious eyes: what’s so special about today?

Dwarfed by towering fir trees that escaped the logging of the 1890s, visitors hear from David Bean, a forest canopy specialist and interpretive guide. WLT plans to provide several opportunities per year for naturalists to share their passions with visitors to Stimpson and other reserves and parks across the county, conserved for public use in partnership with Whatcom County Parks & Recreation.

Dwarfed by towering fir trees that escaped the logging of the 1890s, visitors hear from David Bean, a forest canopy specialist and interpretive guide, during the 15th anniversary celebration of Stimpson Family Nature Reserve on May 16, 2015. Photo by Alan Frizberg.

Many of us had a sense of why we came. For me, it felt like a chance to say thanks for the 15th year one of Whatcom County’s greatest wonders has been shared. It also was a chance to walk among naturalists, friends and the very family that made this reserve possible. I tried to find the faces to match the 50s era photograph of the young Stimpson children. I had guesses, but the truth was that they were as much a part of this crowd as apart from it. We all hushed when WLT Board Member Rand Jack finally perched upon a chunk of Chuckanut sandstone backed by maples and Indian plums with yellowing fruit.

“We stand on sacred ground,” he began, “not only for what it is, but for how it came about.” He did not need to tell us of the sprawling developments or the ceaseless distractions in our lives. We face these things each day. Even Rand was quick to confess his own distractions, which included a daughter beginning labor in Boston as he spoke. But this made his statement all the more powerful. “The story of Stimpson Family Nature Reserve is one to perpetuate,” he went on. Indeed, it is a story that cannot be stopped.

Rand did not so much declare the story as share it, calling on the family and the early partners for corrections and contributions to the plot. Like any good story, it meandered with the dramatic, the mundane and the messy. Consider George Pierce, the former Western Washington University Vice President, who discovered his college’s forgotten, unwanted parcel—that became part of the acreage for the  elebrated beaver pond. Or think of the complex puzzle for the seven Stimpson siblings—who had to coalesce a single vision for the land that nourished their youth.

Somehow they knew these are not problems to solve alone. John Stimpson pointed to his sister Susan Trimingham as the diplomat. But Susan was quick to note her observation from the reserve’s new kiosk, suggesting that in its purest sense this reserve “is a gift from our community, for our community; from the past, for our present and future.” After the talk, as we dispersed into the woods for a celebratory walk, I found this thought in every face. After all, this place is now part of each of us. Whatcom Land Trust stationed naturalists at many turns of the trail, and each stop became a testament to how integrated and rich this community—natural AND cultural—can be at its best. Beyond the diverse names of new ferns, flowers and singing birds we learned, the single most common phrase on the trail became “thank you.”

Whatcom Land Trust Board Member Rand Jack speaks on the community conservation history of Stimpson Family Nature Reserve during the 15th anniversary celebration on Saturday, May 16, 2015. Photo by Roger Weiss.

Whatcom Land Trust Board Member Rand Jack speaks about the community partnerships that helped create the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve during the 15th anniversary celebration on May 16, 2015. Photo by Roger Weiss.

As we thanked Holly Roger for telling us about beavers, she thanked John Stimpson for the gift that enables her to bring hundreds of children and families to celebrate this place each year in her Wild Whatcom programs. As we thanked Mark Turner for telling us about the blooming starflowers, he echoed, thankful for a place to share nature through his epic photography and botanical field guides. Even a pair of random folks walking in from Sudden Valley without thought of the day’s event—when they realized they were crossing paths with the Stimpsons, the words came: Thank you, thank you.

"Trail Master" Russ Pfeiffer-Hoyt (center) and other attendees listen to Whatcom Land Trust Board Member Rand Jack's presentation at the 15-year anniversary celebration of Stimpson Family Nature Reserve held on May 16, 2015. Photo by Roger Weiss.

“Trail Master” Russ Pfeiffer-Hoyt (center) and other attendees listen to Whatcom Land Trust Board Member Rand Jack’s presentation during the 15th anniversary celebration of Stimpson Family Nature Reserve on May 16, 2015. Photo by Roger Weiss.

Because I happened to fall in with John Stimpson, his son Taylor, Russ Pfeiffer-Hoyt and a few others, this became the day’s refrain. Russ, the affectionately designated WLT “Trail Master,” has cut hundreds of miles of footpaths across our county. But he doesn’t build trails to get from one place to another; he builds them to enhance the experience of nature. There is artistry, ethics, and science all rolled into this labor of love, which for Russ is just as much about individuals as about the collective ecosystem. He not only considers how to minimize erosion and maximize wildlife habitat, but also how fence height will best welcome the viewer using a wheelchair to survey the beaver pond. And on the back side of the Main Loop, he makes sure walkers can encounter one of the three Douglas firs that survived the fire 200 years ago, a tree that is at least 500 years old.

To touch a living being that predates Columbus puts our community in context. This is sacred ground indeed, sacred to the Stimpson family as it was (and still is) for the Coast Salish. This story is long and important, but so is the fact that we are here now, giving a piece of ourselves to it. We are here now because of the gifts of those before us, and Whatcom Land Trust was born to be part of its telling. We need places like the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve to continually give thanks for the given: trees, friends, families, all. This is good work, and we are proud to share in the story that cannot be stopped.

The naturalists from Northwest Mushroomers Association and North Puget Sound Licheneers drew a small crowd, including Susan Trimingham (nee Stimpson) and her husband Loch, John Stimpson and his son Taylor, Rand Jack (WLT), Gordon Scott (formerly of WLT), Craig Lee (WLT Executive Director), and Russ Pfeiffer-Hoyt (“Trail Master”).

Naturalists from Northwest Mushroomers Association and North Puget Sound Licheneers drew a small crowd during the 15th anniversary celebration of Stimpson Family Nature Reserve on May 16, 2015, including Susan Trimingham (nee Stimpson) and her husband Loch, John Stimpson and his son Taylor, Rand Jack (WLT), Gordon Scott (formerly of WLT), Craig Lee (WLT Executive Director), and Russ Pfeiffer-Hoyt (“Trail Master”). Photo by Alan Fritzberg.

WLT would like to thank the following naturalists for bringing their expertise and enthusiasm to the celebration of the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve: Holly Roger (Wild Whatcom), Mark Turner (Turner Photographics and author, Trees and Shrubs of the Pacific Northwest), Fred Rhoades (Licheneers of North Puget Sound), Caleb Brown and Buck McAdoo (Northwest Mushroomers Association), Lynne Givler (WLT and North Cascades Audubon Society), Kim Clarkin (WLT Volunteer Land Steward standing in for Paul Pittman, Pacific Survey and Engineering), David Bean (formerly Whatcom County Parks), Patricia Otto and Valerie Wisniewski (Koma Kulshan chapter of the Washington Native Plant Society), Russ Pfeiffer-Hoyt (Trail Master), Rob Rich (writer and naturalist).

This story was originally published in the summer 2015 issue of The Steward, the newsletter of Whatcom Land Trust.