Northwest Trek leader Dave Ellis dies on park's anniversary
Dave Ellis was the ultimate man about town.
He was beloved for his wildlife advocacy as deputy director of Northwest Trek, respected for his civic service on the Eatonville Town Council and revered as a compassionate friend.
Ellis, 65, died of heart complications Tuesday, on the 37th anniversary of the wildlife park he was so committed to.
“He was just a wonderful person who a lot of people would strive to emulate,” his stepson, Jesse Wellborn, said Thursday.
Ellis worked at zoos in Texas, New Zealand and Florida. He came to Northwest Trek in 1985 as general curator and became deputy director in 2000. For nearly three decades, he worked tirelessly to improve the 723-acre park and the experience for those who visited.
One of his first projects was helping the park obtain accreditation in 1985 and ensuring that the follow-up reports from the Association of Zoos & Aquariums were glowing. Accreditation is important for wildlife facilities because it allows them to participate in animal reproduction and conservation programs.
An endangered species that most recently garnered Ellis’ support was the Oregon spotted frog. He was instrumental in working with other agencies to care for the species’ eggs over a nine-month span before releasing them into the wetlands at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.
Ellis and his team “protected the original dream” of Northwest Trek, said Gary Geddes, director of the Zoological and Environmental Division of Metro Parks Tacoma.
“Every day he managed toward the protection of Northwest Trek and the concept of what it was established to be,” Geddes said. “He was unwavering in that commitment.”
Under Ellis’ leadership, the wildlife park added at least 10 exhibits or features. The most popular addition is said to be the bear exhibit. Designed and built by Trek officials, it caused a boost in park attendance when it opened in 1993 and continues to be one of the most popular exhibits.
He also oversaw projects dating from Cat Country in 1987 to the most recent addition of a zip-line course, which opened last weekend.
Ellis was fond of the animals he worked with and was instrumental in bringing an additional 100 species to Northwest Trek in 2005 for conservation efforts.
“He was a great person to leave Trek in his hands. He had my back all the time,” Geddes said. “I can’t say how much I relied upon him and trusted his judgment.”
Inside and outside of work, Ellis was known for being adventurous, kind and committed. Family members said Ellis was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed fishing, skiing and hiking. He also loved to draw animals and nature scenes.
He spent several years on the Eatonville Town Council and joined multiple other boards and civic groups.
In a Pierce County voter pamphlet from 2001, when Ellis was seeking re-election to the Eatonville post, he cited his efforts to improve water supply, clean up the town, encourage economic development and bring “a sense of fairness and logic to all town council considerations.”