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Ruth Kees Recalls Local Land Battles

This article first appeared in the Issaquah Reporter on July 31, 2009.

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. At that time she talked about the fight to save the Issaquah Skyport and the effort to stop the Southeast Bypass.

Issaquah Skyport

When Interstate 90 came through the Issaquah Valley, Ruth Kees started the group, Friends of Issaquah Creek, to save the salmon trapped in weirs built by the highway department on the north end of Tiger Mountain.

“But I could see this was going to be a one-person type of thing so I didn’t carry it very far,” she said. “But then other things started developing, and we got more people [involved]. At that time, the Washington Environmental Council had been formed. So I went to form the Issaquah Environmental Council.”

“Then things got so hot around here. It was a case of paying attention to all the local issues.”

One of the issues was the Issaquah Skyport, which was located on the north side of I-90 where the Pickering Place shopping center now stands.

The Skyport was a popular destination for area residents who liked to watch the field’s parachuting and gliding activities.

In 1987 operator Linn Emrich’s lease expired. A bond issue to keep the Skyport was defeated.

Ruth Kees and her husband Dan were among those leading the fight to stop development on the site “because that whole area is a wetlands,” she said. “It may not be a Class 1 wetlands, but it’s a wetland.”

The Kees’ concern was that development would interfere with the natural replenishment of the aquifer. During her interview, Ruth explained what happens when surface water cannot sink into the ground.

“Well, water always goes downhill,” she said. “This part of the valley is elevated above Lake Sammamish, which is a big pool. It shows where the aquifer level is. Because of the development around here the water is no longer absorbed into the ground. Lately, after a rainfall, Lake Sammamish will go up six feet, and all the docks are underwater. And then it goes back down. It’s definitely connected to getting rid of your surface water. You can’t replenish the aquifer [if the ground is covered with impervious surfaces].”

Kees also pointed out that recent flooding in the Issaquah Valley occurred because the ground could not absorb the water fast enough.

The Kees sued to save the Skyport land. The developers waged a countersuit, a SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) suit. It turned out to be too much for the Kees, who settled.

“It cost us money, that’s what did us in,” she said. “We were $86,000 in debt and we didn’t see any way out. And they kept processing it. They didn’t let anything die. So finally we saved the 12 acres and Pickering Barn. At least that was given to us.”

Southeast Bypass

For 20 years Kees was involved in the effort to block construction of the Southeast Bypass, which would have connected I-90’s Sunset Interchange with the Issaquah Hobart Road via a route along the base of Tiger Mountain.

The Kees’ interview was conducted before the Issaquah City Council voted to kill the bypass project.

“The reason for having the bypass is to take the traffic off Front Street,” she said. “Now, that’s kind of silly, because we don’t get all that much. We get traffic, but then it goes through. And it is not truck traffic. Trucks are forbidden.

“And you put that bypass in and you’re going to have a whole bunch more cars – and trucks – going down this valley, with more smog in this valley. And with our terrain, we’re going to be a little Los Angeles.

“And the noise pollution! People don’t talk about noise pollution, but it affects the nerves of a person. They’ve subjected animals and people to continuous noise, and their blood pressure went up. And their blood pressure never came down! So it causes physiological changes.

“It would also result in this part of the valley being developed, too.

“I think this is one case where citizen [input made a difference]. There were a whole slew of people that all spoke out against it.”

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.”

Hearing History: Ruth Kees

 

Ruth Kees (left) and Fred Nystrom (right) walk along Issaquah Creek
ca late 1980s

 

Maria McLeod: So I wanted to ask you about the Issaquah Creek, I wanted to ask you about the watershed, and I wanted to ask you about water quality, and what you’ve noticed about water quality, and what ways water quality has been compromised, or that you fear it’s been compromised since doing your work. 

 

Ruth Kees:  Well … mainly I think what’s affecting this country now is that the fermenting of little urban areas, areas of urbanization.  They permit people to dig a well, and if the well will produce 5,000 gallons a day –  

 

And I don’t think they’ve ever run a test on any of them to make sure that they would produce 5,000 water a day.  They figure, we can put six houses on 5,000 gallons of water a day.  And we’ll group them all in one little spot, and that will keep them from sprouting out all over the country. 

 

Well, I think I’d rather see one house per 5 acres than these little urban areas, which require all kinds of amenities that these other houses don’t require.  And you won’t get people watering their lawns.  In other words, we’re urbanizing the area whether it wants to be urbanized or not, by permitting these little colonies.  [Sounds of material being rattled around in the background] 

 

MM:  Are you worried about the kind of growth that’s occurred in Issaquah since you’ve – I mean, in recent years, and that compromising water quality and the environment here? 

 

RK:  Every road that they put in is putting a dike in the ground.  And this disrupts the transmission of ground water.  Or every little urban area that they put into, also disrupts – uh – it increases runoff because of having more – uh – gosh what do you call it?  Ground that won’t permit … 

 

MM:  Impermeable? 

 

RK:  Impermeable surfaces.  Every road is an impermeable surface.  And this creates runoff.  And the water doesn’t get back into the ground where it does any good.   

 

And look at Lake Sammamish now.  Lake Sammamish used to be a lake that did not respond to rainfall.  It was fairly static.  People have built docks and they’ve built all kinds of wood structures along the edge of Lake Sammamish, and by golly, now some of the – after a rainfall, they’re under water!   

 

And this never happened before.  And that’s because of increased runoff.  So that all the water has just poured into Lake Sammamish, instead of going into the ground where it will replenish the aquifers. 

 

Ruth Moore Kees was born in Nebraska in 1923 to Paul Moore and Myrtle Schultz Moore. Ruth was interviewed in 2006 by Maria McLeod as part of IHM’s oral history project. Her interview covers her work as a government inspector during WWII, getting her pilot’s license and working at Boeing, and the impact Issaquah’s development has had on the environment and her effort to protect it. If you’re interested in local environmental issues, both of Ruth’s interviews are amazing reads.
You can also visit the Ruth Kees Big Tree Trail on Tiger Mountain if you’re in the mood for a hike. See the City of Issaquah’s Heritage Trees page for more information.