Tom Strid tossed his shovel to the ground and eyeballed the 20 Hansville Greenway volunteers through his spectacles. Not a whiff of a breeze stirred the thigh-high grasses in Otter Meadow near Buck Lake while the July sun sank slowly on the western horizon.
It’s a mystery!” Tom, a meadow expert, shouted like a prosecuting attorney. “This meadow shouldn’t be here.”
And so began the Case of the Missing Trees, Tom’s foolproof method of teaching Kitsap fourth graders how terrains change. The pandemic kept fourth graders away this year, so Tom, David Vasquez, a water specialist, and John Mikesell, a native plant expert, graciously bestowed their expertise on trail volunteers.
Waving a blackberry branch, Tom explained that many plants have dormant leaf buds below ground that spring to life to generate new leaves after an assault, such as animals munching on them. Research showed that a farmer cleared the area of trees 40 years ago so cows could graze. The farmer sold the property to Kitsap County in 1997 and the plants with underground leaf buds took over. Trail volunteers marveled like 10-year-olds at the solution.
John continued the delight on the way out of the meadow and into the forest by identifying tall lavender flowers as Douglas spirea. He explained that the Native Americans used oval Cascara leaves along the trail as a laxative and that the hand-size thimbleberry leaf is tissue paper soft, hence its nickname: toilet paper plant.
David provided microscopes at Upper Hawk’s Pond for viewing fly larva and mayfly nymphs, freshwater worms and nematodes, explaining their importance to the health of the rain-recharged aquifer that supplies Kitsap County’s water.
“This was so special,” one volunteer gushed. Almost makes you want to volunteer.
The next time you lean on the pedestrian bridge railing over Hawk’s Hole Creek on the Hansville Greenway to stare at the still water delighting the bugs, thank Martin Adams. Nestled in the sword ferns near a post to prevent motorized madness on the bridge is a simple memorial to tell hikers that Martin Adams was a great friend and tireless community volunteer. He was also the primary brains and energy behind the bridge.
“He was a tremendous asset to the whole development of the Greenway,” says Ken Shawcroft, one of the Greenway founders. “We really miss him.”
A bridge is a complicated venture requiring permits, professionals, and plenty of money. An anonymous donor gave $16,500 for the one over Hawk’s Hole Creek. Martin, with a background in mechanical engineering, coordinated the rest. He helped design a bridge that fits the graceful surroundings. He tilted the railings slightly to preserve the structure longer by allowing water to run off. He found building contractors for the construction and arranged for the delivery of materials on a private road. That delivery included cement piped from a truck two tenths of a mile to the construction site.
“He was very detailed and a hard worker,” Ken says. “We were lucky to have him.”
Martin was quiet and unassuming, but he knew how to catch the eye of Hansville residents on his bright yellow three-wheeled motorcycle. Ken said Martin volunteered on Greenway projects right up to his death a few years ago. You can appreciate him with a walk over the rock-solid bridge that’s a testament to his dedication to the Greenway.
Salal and Labrador tea mingled on the Upper Hawk’s Pond shore, providing shade and protection for frogs and mallards long before the Quiet Place existed. Maureen Vis had never heard of the Quiet Place while she and her husband ran Foulweather Farm in Hansville back in the 1990s, but Maureen recognized the beauty of the pond and the importance of attracting people to its shores.
Her vision along with others led to the Hansville Greenway trails, except Maureen was given little time to enjoy them. She was 56 when she died in 1998. Her family honored her life with the construction of a viewing platform at the Quiet Place and a plaque that says in part, “It was her hope that visitors to this special place would experience a bond with nature and renewal of spirit.”
“ She was a good leader, one of the Big 3 in the community,” says Ken Shawcroft, one of the Greenway founders.
Women from the correctional institution at Purdy carried in the building materials for the platform, which was the first structure built on the Greenway. Architect John Armstrong designed a generous deck with sturdy benches that hovers at the pond’s edge. Volunteers provided labor.
From the platform’s vantage point, hikers see mallards and ring-billed ducks swimming through lily pads, bald eagles sizing up meal possibilities, an igloo-shaped beaver’s den. Two hikers once reported sighting a black-billed trumpeter swan sailing across the placid water.
“I’ve seen artists drawing there, people reading,” Ken says.
Before the Hansville Greenway trails were public, a lookout tower loomed over Lower Hawk’s Pond. It was makeshift, with a ladder up and a lawn chair on the platform—enough for someone to soak in the song of the redwing blackbirds and the stitch-stitch-stitch of the marsh wren.
“The prior owner set it up. It was natural the trail would go there and we’d build another platform,” says Ken Shawcroft, an engineer and Shorewoods resident and one of the Greenway founders.
Memorials from the families of Weencie Fite and Lauren Keen helped build the replacement platform. Weencie was a long-time area resident who supported the trail in every possible manner for a woman in her 90s.
Lauren was the daughter of Chuck and Linda Keen, who owned the Hansville Garage. She died in college of a sudden illness. The platform bears a plaque in their honor.
Retired architect John Armstrong designed the structure. His first thoughts were fanciful, his final plan practical. Bracing added stability after the finished lookout twisted a bit as people moved on it. Now it’s sturdy and solid and a magic window to pink-flowering spirea and bog laurel, pond lilies and cat tails, ospreys, eagles, muskrats, and wood ducks.
For six months years ago, Ken hiked to the lookout every Sunday morning and recorded what he heard and saw for about three hours. Swallows and hood mergansers, red-tailed hawks and coyotes, beaver and mink, mallards and ring-necked ducks.
“It’s a wetland. A lot of times you don’t see any birds but enjoy the peace and quiet,” he says. “Remember to bring your binoculars.”
After a horse punched its hoof through the decking of a bridge on the Hansville Greenway Trail System, Howie O’Brien knew repairs were a priority this year.
“Some of those bridges are at the end of life, just worn down,” said Howie, who coordinates construction projects for the Greenway. “After this year, three of them will be wider and stronger.”
For years, trail projects consisted mostly of maintenance—clearing downed trees, rerouting water from over the trails. The toll of wear and tear on structures, though, is obvious this year. Already, Howie and other volunteers have replaced boards in the viewing platform over Lower Hawk’s Pond.
Kitsap County Parks provides the Greenway with $1,000 per year for supplies for projects. Volunteers provide the labor. This year the county money will cover the lumber for the bridges and two new benches where hikers can sit and listen to the redwing blackbirds and other birds sing.
Bridges just off the Ponderosa entrance and on the Trillium Loop trail near Hawk’s Hole Creek will be widened from two feet to four feet and curbs will be added on the sides for more comfortable horse crossing. The final bridge design will come from Kitsap County Park probably in early May. Volunteers also will replace a bridge of logs that’s falling apart on the Hood Canal Drive trail.
Projects for the future include a boardwalk over a perpetually muddy area at Post 10.
“Mud is part of hiking, but horse traffic churns it up and bikes leave ruts,” Howie said.
The red alder blocking the trail in the Hansville Greenway was staggering—18-inches thick with leafy branches jutting every which way. It had taken several smaller trees with it. The destruction cut off two trails and drew a small crowd of awed hikers and their dogs.
“I have no clue how many trees we’ve lost this year. Maybe 50?” says Art Ellison, longtime trail volunteer and instructor of chainsaw safety for Kitsap County. “Some people think this year has been wetter. Some trees fall for no apparent reason.”
When they do, Art grabs his 18-pound chainsaw and hiking boots. He’s one of about 50 volunteers who coordinate efforts to keep the Hansville Greenway safe and accessible. They cut and move fallen trees, drain buildups of water, undo unauthorized alternate trails and even occasionally relocate the trail when an uprooted tree takes the pathway with it.
Art brought his professional skills as a forester to the Greenway in 2002. He calls himself a glutton for punishment for volunteering, but he is one of 10 to 15 reliable volunteers you’ll find fixing nearly every calamity. They hike in with chainsaws, Pulaskis and shovels. Art prefers that good-intentioned hikers don’t beat them to the punch.
“We get a little annoyed when we carry all our stuff into the woods and someone’s done the job,” he says. “Safety’s another problem. If they get hurt, it’s on them.”
The red alder project took half an hour to clear. A day later, Art and his crew were on the Hood Canal Trail, cutting a fallen tree that had nearly taken a bridge out with it.
We had a lovely Saturday afternoon in November after a week of cold and rain and wind, and the sun drew a number of hikers to the Hansville Greenway. One couple, on their way through the Greenway, arrived at the small bridge below Bear Meadow just as a horse and rider broke through one of the bridge boards and tumbled into the mud below. The people who saw this happen reported it to someone who then reported it to the Greenway. From what we know, the horse and rider were ok, but the bridge needed a quick repair. Jim DeRoy happened to have a board that would fit into the bridge and went out Sunday morning with his tools to make the repair.
We have a number of volunteers in the Greenway who are usually able to respond fairly quickly to reports of maintenance needed. This could be a tree across the trail, a particularly wet area on the trail, or a broken board in a bridge. We always appreciate visitors to the Greenway reporting any of these needs they might encounter. firstname.lastname@example.org is handy for this. It’s also good to know that if help is needed for someone in the Greenway, there are location markers on posts at most trail intersections. You can dial 911 and identify your location by these markers so that help can find you. The Greenway is always open to those with interest in helping on the trails. You can keep up with what’s going on, on either the Facebook page or the website: www.hansvillegreenway.org.
We are saddened by the passing of our friend and long-time Hansville Greenway steward, Lou Nawrot. He was an important member early in the establishment of the Hansville Greenway Association. Lou was our legal advisor and played a big role, working with the County, in negotiating with Pope Resources for the purchase of the lower end of the Greenway.
Lou really enjoyed hiking in the Greenway trails and was especially fond of the trail from Hood Canal Drive to Hawks Hole Creek Bridge. He also liked working on the legal aspects of stewardship providing guidance on rights-of-way and easements. Lou was the first person I called when a question came up about an easement. He was always quick to respond and provided just the right amount of detail.
Lou regularly attended our Greenway meetings and was always a voice of reason and cautioned us wisely on legal issues. The last thing he worked on was to better understand the easements from The Ridge (formerly Sterling Highlands) to the Greenway.
We all will miss him greatly. Our thoughts are with Sara and family.
Connie Gordon spots treasure along the Hansville Greenway trails where other hikers see decomposing alder leaves.
“There’s one,” the Hansville resident says, kneeling by a pile of wet leaves and fir needles, sticks from a recent windstorm, and inch-deep footprints in mud. She brushes off the leaves to reveal a clump of brown mushrooms shaped like rising dough balls. Even with the field guides she carries, she’s uncertain about the mushrooms’ identity, but that doesn’t diminish her delight.
“Unless you know for sure what you’re doing, enjoy looking. The thrill is in the hunt,” she says.
The Greenway trails are known for Chanterelle mushrooms in the soggy fall and morels in the spring. The animals dine on many of them before the mushrooms can do their part to help rotting logs decay and return to the earth.
Connie urges caution to hunters. She’s studied mushrooms in the wild for 30 years but doesn’t consider herself an expert. Carrying All That the Rain Promises and More by David Arora, The Mushroom Pocket Field Guide by Howard Bigelow, and “Edible Mushrooms,” a pamphlet she picked up at the Chimacum Ranger Station, she tries to identify giant white mushrooms with birdbath tops.
She turns them over and checks their gills. She shakes out spores that are smaller than poppy seeds and grow more mushrooms. Uncertain what they are, she shifts her attention to the white artist’s palettes sticking out from tree trunks and a cluster of mushrooms that resemble closed umbrellas.
“They’re as much fun to see as anything,” she says.
For those interested, there is a local club affiliated with the North American Mycological Association. The Kitsap Peninsula Mycological Society is located in Bremerton. Their website is https://kitsapmushroommichs.org.
What Dennis Kommer can do in a few hours in the Hansville Greenway saves trail volunteers days of toil, tangles and thorns. It also saves two meadows that provide homes for voles, field mice and frogs and a pastoral view for people.
“There’s a lot more life living in the meadows than dragonflies,” says Howie O’Brien, who’s in charge of projects for the Greenway Association.
Dennis, who owns Dennis Kommer Excavating LLC, has volunteered for the past three years to mow down the blackberries and other invasive plants that threaten to overtake the 10-acre Otter Meadow located west of the Greenway entrance near the Hansville Community Center ballfield and the two-acre Bear Meadow located near the north end of Buck Lake.
Finding the ideal time to mow is tricky. Machines are too dangerous to run in the meadows during fire season and get stuck in the mud during the rainy season. Spring is the time for nesting. When Dennis is notified the time is right, he climbs onto his excavator with a flail mower and downs blackberry brambles, alder sprouts and thistles while he spares, with guidance, canary grass, Douglas spirea and clumps of Salmonberry. Without the mowing, the forest eventually would reclaim the former farmland.
The Trail Association uses self-propelled mowers for smaller jobs on the Greenway but rented a tractor for the meadows until Dennis volunteered.
“We live here in Hansville,” says Beth Kommer, Dennis’s wife and partner. “Mowing the meadows is our way to give back. It’s easy for us to do and we love to do it.”