Land trust hires executive director

By Katy Nesbitt, The Observer November 13, 2013 10:27 am

ENTERPRISE — Kathleen Ackley has entered into the Wallowa County orbit quite comfortably from her former home of Olympia, Wash., and finds herself surrounded by the familiar.

During an interview a few weeks after she took the helm of the Wallowa Land Trust as its first executive director, she glanced at her surroundings in Joseph’s Arrowhead Chocolate shop and noticed artwork by Olympia’s Nikki McClure. “She’s everywhere,” Ackley said.

Wallowa County itself was distantly familiar as well. Growing up in Eugene, she traveled around Oregon extensively with her family.

“I spent my childhood camping all over the state of Oregon, including Wallowa Lake and on the rivers. Being here brings back that feeling of untrammeled wilderness,” Ackley said.

Proximity to wilderness was one draw to uprooting from Olympia and moving to the Wallowas.

“I saw this job opportunity in an email. I've been to Wallowa County and thought, “That place is gorgeous. What an amazing opportunity to come into an amazing community. I’ll have more opportunity to play outside and can be in the wilderness within 15 minutes after work,” Ackley said.

She said her first experience living in the rural West was when she spent a year in the Methow Valley east of the Cascades in northern Washington. “It whetted my appetite for living in a small town,” Ackley said. “I liked the chance to get to know everybody in the community.”

In the Olympia area she said there was more development and people. Working in Wallowa County, she will work with a smaller population with larger tracts of land. “We have the opportunity to conserve thousands of acres of contiguous land,” Ackley said.

Ackley has worked primarily in conservation throughout her career. The last 10 were at The Capitol Land Trust. “I got to Olympia in 2004 and worked part time in membership and outreach. I had to do everything from stewardship to fundraising, bookkeeping, and I monitored properties. It was a great learning experience and I became a ‘jack of all trades’.”

She said the Trust grew to a staff of seven, and 5,000 acres were conserved in southwestern Washington.

What she’s learned over the past decade is a wealth of experience that she brings to the Wallowa Land Trust, including her love of community, working with people and bringing diverse minds together to solve problems.

Solving problems is on the top of James Montieth’s list as well. Montieth served as the Wallowa Land Trust’s president for 10 years and is stepping into a support role as a board member. Offering landowners options to conserve their land is seen by the Trust’s staff and board as a problem solver.

“We have been trying to solve the problem that were being postponed,” Montieth said. “We benefited greatly from land use planning. We’re one tool for people to want to conserve their land.”

In June, the Trust will celebrate its 10th year. Conserving the land around Wallowa Lake has been a major focus.

“The moraines were a big part of why we started the land trust along with all the reasons that maintain a rural landscape and lifestyle, but the moraines were front and center,” Montieth said.

Montieth credited Board Member Jean Pekarek and her keen interest in the county’s land use planning as being integral not only for the trust’s formation, but for its continued success.

“We started out as concerned citizens and spent several years deciding not to do a land trust until we decided to do a land trust,” Montieth said. “There was nothing like it in Eastern Oregon at the time. We were trying to fill a void and were clearly focused on the moraines. The Marr Ranch fight was a catalyst. We became proactive at solving the problem and not continuing in another decade of land use battles.”

By the fall of 2008, Wallowa County stakeholders celebrated a long-fought battle to protect the Marr Ranch near the foot of Wallowa Lake from development. The 60-plus-acre parcel is now a state heritage site called Iwetemlaykin, a Nez Perce word that means “at the edge of the lake.”

Julia Lakes, who has served as conservation director for the Trust for more than four years said, “The Land Trust is not a reactive organization, and it’s not a land use planning watch dog. We work for what the community, landowners and the county want to see.”

Ackley said she believes in the methods of land trusts because, “They are voluntary, non-regulatory and non-governmental. We offer all kinds of different incentives to meet the goals of what people want to do with their land. Land trusts are creative and collaborative and bring the community together to plan for a property they want to conserve.”

Montieth said the landowners have choices with how they can conserve their land. “If you are a landowner and care about your land, there are things you can do without a lot of money.”

He said landowners can donate their land or enter it into a conservation easement while retaining the land for future generations.

As for the moraines, conserving the geologic wonders is a work in progress. 

“It’s a huge and unique undertaking,” Ackley said. “The stakeholders are trying to find a way to preserve an undeveloped landscape while maintaining public access, grazing and timber harvest. The partnership really sees the importance of those moraines, and everyone recognizes the community is behind this.”

From 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, the Wallowa Land Trust is hosting an open house for the community to come meet Ackley in her new digs. The office’s address is 116 S. River St., across the street from the Wallowa County Courthouse.

For more information on the Trust, visit www.wallowalandtrust.org.