Submitted by Kathy Jacobson for the Chehalis Basin Lead Entity
Chanele Holbrook is a longtime advocate and crusader working to protect the rural character, and the forest and prairies lands of Scatter Creek headwaters –and beyond.
In 1992, Chanele discovered Tenino and just knew she was “home”, it’s been her inner passion to protect it ever since.
“I was lucky enough to grow up in the military and moved all over. I’ve lived all over the east and west coasts, Hawaii and even in Korea. After two years of college, I joined the Air Force as a military police officer. When stationed in Spokane, I would travel over the mountains to visit family on the coast. I fell in love the huge trees and landscape. After my tour ended, I found my “special valley” in Tenino, I never left.”
Chanele continued her formal education, and in 1999, graduated from Evergreen State College with a BS degree, with an emphasis in Ethnobotany and Watershed Ecology. The magical landscape that Chanele had fallen in love with, she learned was primarily owned by big timber companies, and that it would soon be logged. Chanele wanted to help protect the sensitive old growth forest habitat for salmon and wildlife, and with her new degree she could do just that!
“I was fortunate enough to be hired by local landowners who wanted to protect in perpetuity and restore 600 acres of their forested uplands and lower valley wetlands. Together, they created a non-profit conservation land trust, the Heernett Environmental Foundation – named for its founders Gabriele Heertje and Manfred Nettek, and later renamed Creekside Conservancy. For more than 20 years, I was the Director of Environmental Operations for the foundation. The position was challenging, as I was the only employee, but it was also super gratifying, because I had the ability to design, manage, and implement a large variety of very successful “never been done before” projects, and spearheaded new pilot programs. We tackled some pretty great projects!
Over my many years of work, I was able to highlight the importance of the Scatter Creek watershed for the health of the Chehalis River basin and our local native salmon. Scatter Creek consistently delivers vital cold clear water into the Chehalis River, creating a “gaining reach” and important refugia for salmon throughout the year. It’s a huge benefit for the Chehalis River and is one of the reasons that it is last Basin in Washington without listed salmon.”
As Chanele reflected on her environmental accomplishments, her deep love and knowledge of the rural landscape of the Scatter Creek area, Tenino, and the entire Chehalis basin was evident.
During Chanele’s tenure with Creekside Conservancy, lands protected and enhanced include: the Sampson’s property, a key property in Cozy Valley which helped protect Scatter Creek headwaters and upland forests; the Mills Parker Place property, which protected over ½ mile of Scatter Creek mainstem and has mature endangered White Oak riparian areas and wetlands, and providing unique salmon spawning habitat for steelhead, coho, and chum salmon, as well as, cutthroat trout. Two fish blocking culverts were removed, and a bridge installed to better support Coho salmon and rainbow trout. Working with local school and citizen groups, Chanele has planted more than 1200 trees on foundation lands including on Cozy Valley lands. Chanele also created an outdoor classroom on the property for local students to experience and study their watershed
When asked about her favorite project, Chanele had a ready answer. “The Scatter Creek Farm Conservancy project. This project was great – a fantastic way to bring sustainable agriculture and wildlife conservation together. In perpetuity, 100 acres of prime farm land are now protected, with water rights (70-acre feet of groundwater placed in a water bank), is dedicated to sustainable food production, with an additional 48 acres of critical wildlife habitat bordering on the Chehalis River. Plus, the property has amazing artesian springs, and two side channels for salmon spawning and rearing. A big part of my passion for this project is that it is now –and will be in the future, –a regional educational tool. Working with future landowners and farmers, supporting an agricultural incubator, regional student tours and “agropreneur” workshops to teach new methods of successful farming in small productive niche markets. A “never been done before” kind of project and an enormous win-win for agriculture and wildlife. It’s my gem.”
As a founding member of the Chehalis Basin Partnership, (1998 to 2015), Chanele has been a strong voice and advocate for the environment. In her role, Chanele was active with the steering technical committee, water quality, water quantity, habitat, and citizen advisory committees.
Chanele said, “I’m passionate about environmental protection and insuring we leave a legacy for our grandchildren. We’ve lost too much forested and prairie lands—these areas play a significant role in the protection of water quality. These lands are some of the best for cold, clear, and clean water, to recharge our local aquifers and are important sources for instream flows. Once it’s gone or covered in asphalt, we can’t get it back.”
To protect critical areas and significant forest lands, Chanele developed strong partnerships with regional nonprofit, local, state and federal agencies. Some of Chanele’s early work in south county included working with the nonprofit, Wolf Haven, collaborating on regional projects. This led to the eventual acquisition of additional prairie lands. Today local second graders learn about prairies and pollinators on these prairie lands.
Another local treasure in the Tenino area, is the stone quarry public swimming pool. Legend has it, that quarrymen in the late 1800’s or early 1900’s struck a natural spring that quickly filled the pit with water. As the water flooded the area, workers had to abandon the site, along with their tools. Once filled with spring water, a perfect deep, natural reservoir was created —perfect for swimming. The site was converted to a public pool in the mid-40’s and is in Tenino City Park, –and has been enjoyed by thousands of children, adults and families since.
However, in 2010, Chanele learned that the 60-acre hillside property adjacent to the foundation, (above the park and surrounding the quarry pool) was not owned by the City of Tenino, was going to be logged.
Chanele said, “I knew that I could not let that happen. If it was clear cut as planned, the surface water runoff would impact the park and completely devastate the town’s only community park. The clarity of the quarry pool would be lost, as logging would have caused major sedimentation and erosion of hillside soils right into the quarry pool.” Chanele quickly got to work and led a team of other concerned Tenino citizens. Together matching funds were raised, grants were written, and through a partnership with the Weyerhaeuser Company, the 12 acres directly above the park and quarry pool were acquired and protected in perpetuity.
“In this narrow 12-acre strip of land, the understory of native plants, and the roots of coniferous and deciduous trees collect water, keeping the soil in place, and help to prevent erosion from the logged hillside behind them. The long-term plan is for these 12 acres to connect to an established walking trail that is on the adjacent 250 acres of Creekside Conservancy’s land – and then wrap back down to the Chehalis Western Trail. Locals know this special piece of foundation land as the Backdrop of Tenino.”
With the acquisition of this small forest, the Tenino Park and quarry pool is now protected for the enjoyment of current and future swimmers and park visitors.
In 2018, a swimmer noted on the Quarry Pool Facebook page, “Awesome experience that everyone should do at least once in their lifetime…”
Mayor Wayne Fournier, called the quarry “A priceless piece of local history.”
Another local swimmer noted, “It’s cool that we have this in our small town. Where else can you swim in an old quarry?”
Through all the years, with Chanele at the helm, the foundation worked to strategically acquire additional critical habitat. In addition to the original 600 acres, another 600 acres of important and sensitive land has been acquired, expanding the Creekside Conservancy’s foundation to projects throughout the Scatter Creek sub basin – and beyond.
Chanele’s love for the region shined as she worked closely with the county for years participating on the citizen advisory committee that developed the Agricultural Overlay District in south Thurston County and the vibrant agricultural “Bountiful Byway” – promoting sustainable agriculture and Agri-tourism.
For two decades, Chanele has been an active voice in the community. She has been able to inform and educate the city of Tenino and its citizens, on a variety of issues –local economic vitality, urban sprawl, groundwater recharge, salmon refugia’s, –and the importance of the education of our youth on local watershed issues.
“I’m excited to be able to reenergize a past program that I loved so much. It will involve local elementary and middle school students in watershed ecology and different types of local environmental action projects in the near future.”
Today, Chanele is as enthusiastic and dedicated as ever, and continues her work as a volunteer to protect key habitats in the Chehalis basin, while working full time as an outreach staff member at a local state agency on water quality resource issues.