Dead Man’s Pond isn’t a swamp from some pirate movie, as its mysterious name might suggest.
It’s part of an island of forested wetlands surrounded by suburban developments in Puyallup, and local officials are taking steps to preserve it.
Forterra, a nonprofit formerly known as the Cascade Land Conservancy, purchased the 5-acre property in west Puyallup for $336,000. Forterra will hold the land until the city can gather funds to buy it for public use.
The partnership, propped up by funds from The Russell Family Foundation, is one piece of a larger conservation effort covering about 200 acres of the Clarks Creek watershed. That swath of land also includes nearly 9 acres of forested wetlands acquired by the city for conservation in 2012.
Rochelle Gardner, a 56-year-old Puyallup native, sold the property that her late parents, Raymon and MaryLou Horsley, bought when she was about 8 years old. She’s managed the couple’s estate since her mother died in 2013.
Gardner sold the property to preserve its charm. Her parents enjoyed their final years watching wildlife wander past the windows of their home on the property, she said, and she hopes others will enjoy the sanctuary once it’s open to the public.
“There aren’t very many natural places left in the city,” she said. “This is really a beautiful spot.”
Dead Man’s Pond is home to bald eagles, deer and heron and provides habitat for the threatened Western pond turtle, a species that was removed from the area several years ago but could return as a result of the conservation effort.
Jordan Rash, Tacoma’s conservation director for Forterra, said Gardner approached the city of Puyallup about selling the land. The overture was made between grant-funding cycles, when the city lacked the proper funds to immediately buy it.
Puyallup will pay Forterra the total purchase amount, plus any interest and fees that accrue over time, once the city secures grant funding, said City Attorney Kevin Yamamoto.
If outside money isn’t awarded, he added, city staff could budget to cover the costs.
“The city just didn’t have the money to buy it right away,” Yamamoto said. “One way or another, the city is going to acquire (the land).”
Puyallup will likely buy the property in about a year, Yamamoto added, hopefully with funds through a Pierce County conservation program. The city used the same funds to buy the other piece of the property in 2012.
City Engineer Mark Palmer said that without Forterra stepping in to hold the property, the city risked losing its open-space potential. Just a few blocks away is a wide open “green patch” with few restrictions, he said, creating “a lot of pressure to develop” even more around the land.
Rash said the creative partnership between Puyallup and the nonprofits likely saved the urban pond in Pierce County’s third-largest city. Forterra will look at implementing similar partnerships for other projects.
“This is an opportunity that could’ve been lost had we gone through the grant cycles,” Rash said. “I think this is something that can be replicated for larger conservation projects.”
Rash compared Dead Man’s Pond to Snake Lake, a Tacoma recreation area that gives urban residents a chance to experience wildlife they wouldn’t see otherwise.
During a tour of the Dead Man’s Pond property in July, Rash said he watched an eagle swoop down right in front of him, a moment he said everyone in Puyallup should get to enjoy.
“You can go see wildlife practically in your own backyard,” he said.
The prospect of reintroducing the Western pond turtle also has him excited. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife removed the threatened species from Dead Man’s Pond several years ago to keep it safe from dogs and other hazards.
“Pond turtles are pretty darn cute,” Rash said, laughing.
Puyallup Mayor John Knutsen said he’s pleased with the opportunity to provide more open space for the public to enjoy.
“I think it’s important to preserve some of the more interesting spots in Puyallup, particularly in the west end,” Knutsen said. “We don’t have a lot of parks for people to visit there.”
Although the future of the property is now more clear, one detail about Dead Man’s Pond is still a mystery — the origin of its name. Gardner and city officials have heard rumors that someone may have been found dead in the pond once, but that’s unconfirmed.
“Dead men tell no tales,” Yamamoto quipped.