WARRENTON — Faced with a heart transplant and not knowing what might happen next, a Warrenton resident set in motion a land transfer that has resulted in restored wetland habitat not far from downtown.
The North Coast Land Conservancy acquired the Clear Lake property in 2013 from Rod Gramson. It was the last lake in Warrenton that hadn’t already been conserved or developed.
In the years since, the organization has excavated a sand dune and removed ditches that drained the surrounding wetland. The water is back, and so are the plants, helped along by infusions of seedlings planted by hand. Elk roam through, ducks cackle from behind long grasses, tree frogs are everywhere and someone even spotted a great horned owl.
Last week, staff and volunteers with the land conservancy finished the last active push to bring the land back to what it was before human development began to encroach and transform it. Eric Owen, a land steward, headed up the effort, planting more than 3,000 native plants at the 47-acre property, from elderberry and sedges to Sitka spruce and salal to place the wetland on a good trajectory.
“This is a big wetland creation project, but in the future, it’s more passive restoration,” Owen said. He plans to step back and let natural plant succession occur, some of which is happening already.
He will come through again to do work such as pulling weeds and checking on native plant health, but, he said, “It’s a really good, healthy native plant community already.”
For this, the land conservancy can thank Gramson and his goats.
Gramson hadn’t planned to sell. He had been taking care of the property for many years and grazed goats on it, which helped take care of invasive brush. For the most part, it was pretty pristine, he said.
Gramson had health problems and was looking at major heart surgery. He didn’t know what would happen, but he knew he didn’t want to see the property fill up with houses if he died. He decided to sell it to the land conservancy before his operation.
“I’m still alive, and I’m so happy I did it,” he said. “I made a good deal and, well, it was a good deal for both of us … It’s not a huge piece (of land), but I think it’s an important piece.”
His house is on the lake and he had a recent reminder of how quickly a landscape can change. Several nearby lots are in the process of being developed, altering both the ambiance and the surrounding landscape.
“We need more of this primitive land kept in this condition,” he said. “It’s getting harder and harder for this kind of land to survive.”
Though the land conservancy’s Gardenia Wetland and Ridge Road Swamp habitat preserves are nearby, complimenting Clear Lake and its restored wetlands, no properties directly abut the Clear Lake property. But similar wetlands overlap and spread out from it. The animals that frequent the area can’t tell the difference, Owen said. Adding Clear Lake as a protected site into the mix provides even more of a corridor for native animals and plants to survive and thrive.
The land conservancy maintains a mix of properties. Some, like the large Circle Creek preserve near Seaside, are open to the public. Clear Lake is not, nor are there any plans to provide public access. The only access is across private property and the wetland habitat doesn’t lend itself to much human rambling. It may be included in a tour of stewardship lands in the future, but for now it is left to nature.
“Really the long-term benefit will just continue to be that the property will remain ‘as is’ in perpetuity,” said Jon Wickersham, the land conservancy’s associate director.
The land conservancy plans to continue having discussions with adjacent and nearby landowners, but the organization has no immediate projects on the horizon in the area.