Ruth Kees Recalls the Early Days of Conservation in the Issaquah Alps

This article first appeared in the Issaquah Reporter on December 19, 2011.

By Jean Cerar

Although she died May 6, 2009, the stories of Ruth Kees, Issaquah’s longtime environmental activist, live on through the Issaquah History Museums’ Oral History Video Project.

Ms. Kees was interviewed in November 2006. Following are some of her comments about the effort to preserve Tiger Mountain for the public.

Ruth Kees and her husband Dan built a home at the foot of Tiger Mountain in 1960.

Above them were the 14,000 acres that now make up the West Tiger Mountain National Resource area and the Tiger Mountain State Forest.

“Weyerhaeuser owned every other square mile,” Kees said. “This dates back to the time when the United States was trying to get this area populated.

They granted the University of Washington every other square mile and Weyerhaeuser every other square mile. So Weyerhaeuser had come in and clear cut. And we got involved because they were clear cutting it at the head of Fifteen Mile Creek.”

According to Kees, Weyerhaeuser had replanted, and they wanted to spray to kill competing plants.

However, she wanted to show that hand clearing was the way to go.

“About 200 people came out that weekend,” she said. “It didn’t take all that long to do. And it certainly worked.”

How did she get the people to turn out?

“Well, it was just a case of calling people up and talking to people. And I think it was put in the newspaper back then what was going to happen.”

It was the beginning of Kees’ career as an environmental educator. She would explain that “trees, with the tree roots, hold the soil. And the greenery also keeps the soil from getting [water]-logged, because of transpiration into the atmosphere. In other words, it [takes] a balance of nature. It prevents erosion.”

Kees was an original member of the Issaquah Alps Trails Club, founded in 1979 by Harvey Manning and others to act as custodians and advocates for the area.

“[Harvey] decided that in order to preserve Tiger Mountain, he was going to have to educate people as to the value of the mountain,” Kees said.

“And at that time, too, the ATVs – you know, the all-terrain vehicles – were running rampant around the place. And we got them – or Harvey got them – forbidden to go up on Tiger because they were just ruining all the trails.”

Recalling the early days of the club, she said, “Well, it was educational in that we got new members, and they went on hiking trips. And I think they still do. They guarantee there’s going to be a hiking trip every day. And it’ll take place whether anybody shows up or not.”

“I have to tell this story about Harvey. He always dressed in either wool or cotton. Nothing that was artificial or manmade. And he had a beard and long hair. And one of the later members tells a story that the first time she saw Harvey – she met him on one of the trails – she turned around and walked in the other direction! Because he was such a wild-looking person.”

 Two years after the trails club was founded, its efforts paid off. The Tiger Mountain State Forest was created.

Harvey Manning, Washington State Land Commissioner Brian Boyle, the Department of Natural Resources and Ruth Kees were all involved in the process. As Kees told it, “Harvey Manning evidently got to know Brian Boyle, and Brian Boyle came out and took a look at [the proposed forest]. And the Rolling Log Tavern had something to do with it. [Harvey] took [Brian] into the Rolling Log Tavern and by golly, Tiger Mountain State Forest came into being!”

Logging was not permitted for a while. Then, limited logging was permitted, with the approval of the Tiger Mountain State Forest Advisory Committee of which both Kees and Manning were members.

“Whenever a proposal was made to log a certain part of it, they would bring the proposal before the advisory committee…It wasn’t a square mile that got done, it would be maybe 20 acres logged in an area that could accept logging practices,” Kees said.

Asked if she believed that logging can be carried out in a conscientious way, Kees replied, “Yes, I do. I have tried to see both sides of the story. And with the increase in population, and the need to keep open space, I think that logging can be done. But they should save a little of the old growth, too, which they have done. So we have the big tree that is saved on the northwest corner [of the Tiger Mountain State Forest]. It’s a fir tree. But it’s a huge tree. And it’s probably the only tree that never got cut down. So it’s still there, from days gone by.”