Stand in their yard and you can hear the voice of nature whispering. Schneider Creek gently ripples through a culvert passing under the driveway of Tom and Charlene Wynne, carrying an occasional coho salmon, beginning its journey here on Wynne’s farm, a 500-plus acre estate that includes a mile and a half of Schneider Creek’s five-mile run through the Griffin peninsula. But if not for the efforts of the Wynnes over the past several years, that whisper might have been silenced by now.
The creek was artificially re-routed for unknown reasons sometime before Wynne’s grandfather Dominic Wynne bought the first 80 acres of the farm back in 1916. Consequently, it was not flowing according to Mother Nature’s plan, to the point where the salmon and other fish were at risk, and parts of the Wynne property were under 18 inches of water when it rained.
“It was a problem for me because I was driving through a foot or more of water any time it rained,” says Tom Wynne. “It was going to create a flooding problem on the county road sometime soon. “And,” he adds, “it was a problem for the fish because the passage in the creek was becoming so narrow that the fish were having trouble getting through.”
So in 1993, Wynne began enlisting the help of government agencies to help with the cost and the work of restoring the creek to its former route. The federal and state departments of Fish and Wildlife, South Sound Salmon Enhancement, and the Thurston County Conservation District were all eager to assist, mostly because the creek was home to the endangered salmon.
But the enthusiasm of government agencies didn’t mean it would be easy to get the work done. It was a long process to deal with all the permitting necessary to even begin re-routing the creek.
“It seems like it’s even harder to get the permits and to do the work to save something than it is to destroy something,” Wynne muses. There is still a sense of disbelief in his voice when he tells of how wonderfully everything worked out. “You have to understand I started trying to get something done in 1993 and we just got done in 1997.”
And this was not a project done with Wynne watching from the sidelines, not by any stretch. On the contrary, Wynne was working every step of the way. In fact, when the US Department of Fish and Wildlife had to pull their crew out before the project’s completion because of another commitment, that left Wynne himself to run the backhoe.
Wynne’s face beams a transparent affection for the creek and the farm that has been his home since childhood and his livelihood for many years. He clear-cuts and replants six acres of trees per year and thins an additional 30 acres, making for a sustainable annual yield of 70 year-old trees. He gladly shares the land with deer and elk, coyotes and even an occasional cougar. It’s no wonder that the owners of the Indian Summer Golf Course, who approached Wynne about buying his farm before settling on another site, were met with a secure “No Thanks.”
He says he’s walked every nook and cranny of the property many times and hopes that it will remain in one piece long after his days are over so that others will be able to share in its natural wonder. And while he does not expect that the creek restoration will work a miracle for the salmon, he says it’s already a success.
“When I was a kid, the salmon used to be swimming right up alongside the county road,” he remembers. “There were salmon everywhere, and you just don’t see that anymore. But we did see some fish coming up through here this year,” he adds with a smile. “So we got ’em back.”
– from original text by Rob Hill, published in the January 1998 issue of the Griffin Neighborhood Association’s “Neighbors” newsletter. This is part of a series of articles reprinted from earlier publications in recognition of the 25th anniversary of the Griffin Neighborhood Association.
Postscript: Tom Wynne passed away, at his home. on April 29, 2015. He was 77.
Through, in part, the efforts of the Steamboat Conservation Partnership, a unique relationship between the Griffin Neighborhood Association and Capitol Land Trust, the entire 530-acre Wynne Tree Farm has now been conserved, protecting most of the upper Schneider Creek Valley. The Wynne Family conserved these lands with the Trust in two pieces; the first in 2007 and the last in 2014.