The YMCA of Greater Seattle’s plan to log its Camp Colman site on the western shore of the Key Peninsula has been halted as a battle heats up with neighbors over access to a private road.
The YMCA wants to use Whiteman Cove Road to haul timber from a back entrance of its Longbranch property. Part of the road is owned and maintained by a neighborhood association; the other part is maintained by Pierce County.
The neighborhood association agreed last spring to grant access for the harvest, but did so with the understanding that only one truck a day would roll past, said John Lester, president of the Whiteman Cove Utility and Maintenance Association which oversees maintenance of the private road.
A permit approved Jan. 24 by the state Department of Natural Resources allows up to 50 truckloads of timber to cross the narrow strip.
Never miss a local story.
“What they presented to us is not anything near what is going to happen,” Lester said. “It was played down as a select logging operation for some trees with root rot.”
Lester met with YMCA leaders Thursday. He said they acknowledged more trucks would use the road than previously stated.
“I got a solid number from them that it will be at least 40 loads of logs coming out,” Lester said. “None of us are interested in having 100 trips with log trucks up and down our residential roads.”
The YMCA agreed to repair any damage, but Lester is worried about impacts to the sewer lines buried below the paved surface.
None of us are interested in having 100 trips with log trucks up and down our residential roads.
John Lester, president Whiteman Cove Utility and Maintenance Association
Meredith Cambre, executive director of camping and outdoor leadership for the YMCA of Greater Seattle, said the organization hopes it won’t have to remove the maximum number of trees allowed under its forestry permit. She later declined to comment about what the YMCA might have initially told the neighborhood association.
“Our intention is to remove the minimum amount that we feel we need to do to maintain forest safety,” she said. “We do not want to have to do any more than we have to. We will work to save and keep as many of the trees as possible.”
The YMCA owns more than 100 acres around Whiteman Cove, a body of water separated from Case Inlet by a sand spit. The majority of its holdings are the forested tracts where the camp operates, but it also owns smaller residential parcels on Whiteman Cove Road Key Peninsula South.
The trees will be felled from the forested camp property, not the residential land.
The YMCA has agreed to hold off on logging until the neighborhood association board meets in February, Lester said. He asked the YMCA to present its logging plan at the meeting.
Aileen Nichols, forestry practices forester for DNR, reviewed the YMCA application and said what is planned is a small-scale harvest.
“A lot of permits are usually taking anywhere from 70 to 98 percent,” of total timber volume, she said of applications when property owners are looking to cash in on the value of timber.
The YMCA’s logging will occur on a combined 40.5 acres. The largest tract could see up to 30 percent of its total volume of trees removed, while a smaller site could see up to 25 percent of its total volume removed, Nichols said.
The permit application reflects the YMCA’s intent to clean up “root rot pockets” of diseased trees, she said.
“It’s a minimal thinning really for the safety aspect of the camp and the health of the forest,” Nichols said.
40.5 acres combined area of Camp Colman property where logging will occur
The Greater Seattle YMCA isn’t the only one dealing with the problem. YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties has hired the same contractor to thin diseased trees at Camp Seymour farther north on the Key Peninsula. Access there is by public roads, according to a spokeswoman for the organization.
At Camp Colman, nearby property owner Terry Cook has been fighting the YMCA’s logging plan for the past year. On Wednesday, he stood in the middle of Whiteman Cove Road, preventing a truck destined for the camp from using the road.
Police were called and things ended peacefully, but the incident led to Lester’s discovery of the DNR permit allowing dozens of truckloads a day.
“There is no recorded easement access with the county for them to go through there,” Lester said. “They have property that they have acquired that is now a part of our association ... but it doesn’t allow them to go into their camp that direction.”
Cambre said the nonprofit was “working to understand what we have the legal rights to use.”
“Based on what we know, we have the rights to use the road that we are using,” she said of Whiteman Cove Road.
The main entrance to the camp property is Bay Road Key Peninsula South, a little more than a mile from Whiteman Cove Road.
Neighbors have maintained a “gentleman’s agreement” with the YMCA over the years, Lester said, allowing limited use of the Whiteman Cove Road for employees living at the camp.
Commercial trucks and school buses filled with campers have always used Bay Road, he said. Lester believes the YMCA doesn’t want to use Bay Road to remove the timber because of concerns about a culvert under the road.
Our motivation is to take care of the land and manage the forest for its long term health.
Meredith Cambre, executive director of camping and outdoor leadership, YMCA of Greater Seattle
Cook is upset with how the YMCA has handled the situation. He learned about the planned logging after finding a YMCA forestry consultant on his 5-acre property.
“If I hadn’t caught them trespassing on our property, we wouldn’t have known about any of this,” he said.
After reviewing a 2014 forest management plan commissioned by the YMCA, Cook said he is worried about the impact to his property, which borders the YMCA’s southern boundary.
“The problem with thinning a 100-year-old forest is all these tall, skinny trees have grown up in a grove. They are not equipped to handle wind,” Cook said. “Their report says there is significant potential for blow down.”
Forestry experts have identified trees with advanced signs of laminated root rot on the property and worked from those trees to identify nearby trees that could be susceptible to disease, Cambre said.
“It isn’t just looking at the forest and saying ‘OK we’re going to take this one and then skip two trees and take the next one,’” Cambre said. “The removal of hazard trees is one of the steps in a multiple-year process. Once we do this step, it should become easier to manage the other parts over time.”
If I hadn’t caught them trespassing on our property we wouldn’t have known about any of this.
Terry Cook, property owner abutting YMCA of Greater Seattle’s Camp Colman
Despite the intent to have a minimal impact, Cambre said, the thinning will be noticeable to people familiar with the property because the forest has not been managed in a thoughtful way. The Greater Seattle YMCA took ownership in 2000.
“There is some work we need to catch up on,” she said. “We are going to do everything we can to make it beautiful and to make it feel like a camp experience in the woods.”
Thinning the trees will generate biodiversity in the forest, which will lead to a “much healthier, much more sustainable forest in the future,” Cambre said.
Money received from timber sales will be used to pay for logging operations and road repair, Cambre said.
The YMCA hoped to begin logging immediately so there would be no impact to its educational programming that begins in March. Now, it is uncertain when that might happen.
Lester said if the neighborhood agrees to grant access after reviewing the latest traffic counts, it would likely place a condition that the work be done when the weather is warmer and dry, which he believes will minimize the impact to the road.
“My best-case scenario would be for them to not even worry about driving across our stuff and just go down their own road,” Lester said.