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A botanical garden trust is logging near Tolmie State Park in northeast Thurston County. Why?

A logging project near Tolmie State Park has some neighbors concerned about the loss of wildlife habitat and local beauty.

Sylvia Smith was surprised to learn a tree-harvesting project near her home on Johnson Point was being done to raise money for a Seattle -based botanical garden.
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Sylvia Smith was surprised to learn a tree-harvesting project near her home on Johnson Point was being done to raise money for a Seattle -based botanical garden.

The Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden Trust is logging roughly 39 acres of land near Tolmie State Park in northeast Thurston County. The trust plans to sell the land, which it expects will then be developed into five-acre residential lots.

The trust runs the Elisabeth Carey Miller Botanical Garden in Shoreline, just north of Seattle. The garden’s website describes Elisabeth Carey Miller, its namesake, as a “world renowned horticulturist” who received national and international awards and “was regarded as one of the finest plantswomen of the world.”

Some here who live near the clear cut are calling out the logging as ironic, as well as raising concerns about its environmental impact.

Lauren McCloy, who said she lives right behind the logging site, told The Olympian she learned about the clear cutting earlier this week when she woke to the sound of chainsaws and “huge trees crashing.”

McCloy said she thinks the logging doesn’t seem consistent with Miller’s legacy. The land, she said, is home to mature stands of Douglas fir, Western cedar, and Bigleaf maple trees, as well as wildlife like barn owls, deer, and coyotes.

“When I think about losing those trees, I just worry about the impacts to wildlife in the area, and it seems like such a shame to cut them down for timber revenues,” McCloy said. “It just seems very short-sighted, especially when this land is owned by and supposed to be managed in the trust of a woman who was an environmental and civic leader.”

Sylvia Smith, who said she’s owned her house in the neighborhood for 14 years, thought there might be another goal for the land after she learned who was logging it.

“When I first heard them cutting, you know, I went online to see who owned the place,” Smith told the Olympian. “And, I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s the Elisabeth C. Miller Botanical Garden Trust. Maybe they’re going to put in a botanical garden.’”

When the crew on-site told Smith that no, they were taking out the big trees, she said it was “heartbreaking.”

“I just went home and cried,” Smith said.

The earliest deed the Thurston County Auditor’s Office could find for the property at 5722 63rd Avenue Northeast shows the land transferring from one person with the last name Miller to another person with the last name Miller in 1928.

Geoff Revelle, president of the garden’s board of trustees, estimates the land has been in the Miller family since the 1800s. He said that’s when the family bought timberlands that have funded the Shoreline garden and its programs, as well as the Pendleton and Elisabeth Miller Charitable Foundation. The foundation makes grants to nonprofit organizations.

A few years ago, Revelle said, the trust began selling its timberland properties and putting the money into stocks and bonds instead. He said this parcel in Olympia is the last of its properties left unsold.

“The decision was made by the trust and the foundation that we didn’t want to be in the timber business,” Revelle said. “We wanted to run the garden and its programs, we wanted to run the charitable foundation... We didn’t want to have to manage timber properties -- logging and all that.”

After unsuccessfully attempting to sell the land, Revelle said the trust took it off the market and decided to log all of it, after which the land will be under a moratorium until the trust can sell it to a developer in five years or so.

Revelle expects the logging to be completed within the next two weeks.

“This is just a small logging operation, I don’t know why it’s attracting attention,” Revelle said.

Sara Gentzler joined The Olympian in June 2019. She primarily covers Thurston County government and its courts, as well as breaking news. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Creighton University.
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