By John Ohlson, FICRA Past President, 2000 - 2010
Summer of 2004
The vision to create a wetlands nature park from the property on 9th Ave began in the summer of 2004, when FICRA President John Ohlson drove past the Nature Center property on the way to FICRA meetings at the Nichols Community Center, often noticing a for sale sign had been posted for quite a while. It appeared that a few previous sales offers had fallen through over the past few months. Noting that the property was in close proximity to the Nichols Center, he decided to take a closer look, to see if FICRA could possibly purchase the property to expand the footprint of the Nichols Center, as a park. He presented the idea to the FICRA Board members at the August 2004 FICRA Meeting, and they agreed to pursue the purchase of the land.
On August 26, 2004, Officers of the FICRA Building Trust: Jeff Feagin (President), Tony Moore (Vice President), Judy Kanick (Treasurer), Ed Engelhardt (Secretary) and John Ohlson (Trustee); voted unanimously to proceed with the purchase of the Nature Center property, then known as the 'Wetland Parcel', for $55,000. John Ohlson was appointed Chairman of the 'Wetland Fundraiser Committee', and the race to raise the money was on.
Taking to the streets, soliciting people at the FICRA Fair and standing out in front of the Fox Island Store; John Ohlson and others were able to raise over $25,000 in the first 30 days. Money was raised by selling inscribed tiles at the Nichols Center and memorial bricks at the Nature Center.
Over 140 Fox Island residents donated to the Wetland Fund. There were some significantly large donations from Ohlson's Dragonwyck Web Design and a small number of Island Residents, and many smaller donations from others, including the Chapel on Echo Bay Preservation Society, the Fox Island Garden Club and the Sand & Soil Garden Club. A donation was even received from The Spar Tavern in Tacoma!
By October 7, 2004, the fundraising goal was met; over $40,600 was raised in just under 90 days, and the sale was closed with the final price at $55,606.42. The balance of the purchase price was financed on a 15 year loan. FICRA now owned the Nature Center. Gig Harbor Mayor Gretchen Wilbert and 26th District Representative Pat Lantz were among those present to celebrate the purchase of the property at the October FICRA meeting.
In Late October 2004, the first official work party led by John Ohlson took place to clear the first trails around the property, allowing visitors access to the stream, the wetlands, the 'rain forest' areas, nurse logs, old snags and more.
The Boy Scouts Step In To Help
The next phase of development for the Nature Center was the beginning of a long string of 13 Eagle Scout Service Projects that took place over the following six years from 2005 until 2011. The biggest project by far was the construction of the 60' long footbridge over the stream, built by Keith Buchannan of Gig Harbor's Troop 282, which was completed on August 6, 2005. It took over six months to plan and construct the bridge.
At the same time the bridge was being built, Eagle Scout candidate John Uehlin of Gig Harbor's Troop 212 was constructing a series of 10 park benches, built with concrete feet and Trex decking material for the seat area.
The Grand Opening of the Fox Island Nature Center was held at the 2005 FICRA Fair, with Heather Ohlson cutting the ribbon, assisted by 26th District Representative Derek Kilmer and Scouts John Uehlin and Alex Ohlson.
Garden Clubs Lend A Hand
On October 29, 2005 members of the Sand & Soil Garden Club, the Fox Island Garden Club, and Cub Scouts from Fox Island's Pack 202 joined forces to help do additional clearing of blackberries, and other brush. Daffodils were planted along the new path near the trailhead.
2007 Eagle Scout Projects
2007 brought a flurry of Eagle Projects, a Native Species Garden with various plants & trees from Washington State's various climatic zones was constructed by Ryan Eason of Troop 212, four major raised boardwalks were constructed around the eastern loop trail by Mark McKinney of Troop 212, the Western Loop Trail was built and Plant Identification markers were installed around the property by Ian Johnson of Troop 217, and a picnic area was built at the main trailhead by Zach Briggs of Troop 282.
Girl Scouts Flower Garden
Also in 2007 the Girl Scouts of Fox Island's Troop 290 including Heather Ohlson, Sara Ichiyama, Aliyah Shepard, Tess Matkin, Lauren Zent and Clare Tupper, began work on a flower garden located just behind the trailhead sign, which included rhododendrons, azaleas, forsythia and other flowering plants, and a faux stream.
Many more Eagle Scout projects followed over the years, led by Alex Ohlson, Grant Toepfer, Jesse Long, Jensen Bond, Max Reetz, Dallas Thornton and Sravan Konda, to make the Nature Center what it is today.