By Wayne Cooke
In the middle of Graham lies the Morse Wildlife Preserve, an idyllic area totaling 238 acres. Located on 70th Ave, its central portions straddle the headwaters of Muck Creek. Originally a homestead and farm of the Morse family, its ownership and care transferred to a local conservation group, and on September 13, 2015, the Preserve celebrated its 20th year of existence as a wildlife refuge. To commemorate the occasion, the Preserve hosted a large ceremony for staff, benefactors, and guests, and Director Tom Galdabini gave a detailed account of its founding. Here is his story.
The first recorded ownership of the Morse Wildlife Preserve was in 1888, and the parcel served as grazing land. By the late 1950’s, the site grew to 53 acres and had three owners. Lloyd Morse, who has a homestead in the area, then purchased it and protected the land carefully for the next forty years. In 1994, Lloyd and his wife, Maxine, began looking for a way to continue this stewardship. After talking with the Tahoma Audubon Society and the Tahoma Land Conservancy, the Morse’s decided to deed the land to the Conservancy, which eventually became a part of the regional Forterra non-profit land trust.
The Preserve is managed by a small group of volunteers called the “Morse Force,” with significant help from Forterra and its conservation partner, the Tahoma Audubon Society. Over the past 20 years, they have developed long-range plans for budgeting, fundraising, and volunteer projects to carry out the objectives of the original gift—to enhance the wildlife and education values of the property in perpetuity.
During the Preserve’s tenure, hundreds of school children, university students, and other groups have toured the property and used it as a “living laboratory.”
In addition, as part of the Second Sundays Program, tours for the general public are offered on the second Sunday of each month between April and October.
Also, the Preserve would like to re-establish an outreach program initiated by a nearby elementary school, involving fifth-grade and first-grade students. As a result, we hope to form a bridge between the classroom and fieldwork in habitat restoration.
Further, the Preserve hosts biologists in the “MAPS” program, which captures and bands birds on the property to determine long-term trends in bird populations. This is a very important environmental “measuring rod” for the region, and the Morse site has the longest continuous use for this purpose of any refuges in the region.
One of the major projects undertaken here is the uniquely designed observation tower that was completed in 2000, and has become an essential part of the educational programs on the site.
Another structure that characterizes the Preserve is its small cattle barn, which is a classic post-and-beam structure built around 1910. The Preserve has completed a major project to strengthen the structure, which had deteriorated for many decades. That has allowed its use as a period-piece shelter for environmental education. Now, additional work, including roof replacement, is badly needed. In 2010 the barn was accepted for listing on Washington’s Historic Barn Register, and later on the Pierce County historic structures register.
A few years after the initial gift of 53 acres, the Preserve received a large financial donation and purchased an adjoining 45 acres just to the south of the first parcel. The following year, the Morse Preserve was granted 88 acres that had been Tacoma Public Utility land near the headwaters of Muck Creek. This land is only about ¼ mile from the main part of the Preserve.
Finally, we later received another tract—50 acres that was the Morse Family’s homestead property on 304th St, about five miles from the core properties. This brought the total acreage of the Preserve to 238. For comparison, this is more than one-third the size of Point Defiance Park, about half the size of Northwest Trek, and considerably larger than all other the parks in the county.
Editor Note: Wayne Cooke has been a long-time supporter of the Morse Wildlife Preserve, and for several years he served as a volunteer on the main gate, welcoming the public to the Second Sundays Program. Wayne has also been a frequent contributor to the Mountain News.