Editor’s Note: This story is part of "Headwaters to Harbor," a project to document the Chehalis River from Pe Ell to Grays Harbor while highlighting people and issues connected to the river along the way. Our coverage is compiled at www.chronline.com/Chehalis-River.
On Wednesday, May 25, where the Chehalis River Discovery Trail in Centralia meets the riverbanks across from the mouth of Lincoln Creek, Don Watt, 71, of Lewis County, stood waiting for some kayakers he’d never met.
Watt is the secretary of the Chehalis River Basin Land Trust, which runs its fully-volunteer operation mostly out of the Discovery Trail area.
Holding over 4,000 acres through ownership or easement, the trust is dedicated to conservation and restoration of the river. With work parties and school field trips, the trust plants native trees along the riparian area, strengthening riverbanks and providing more shade along the water, which also helps salmon.
Watt was appointed to be the land trust’s representative to meet with us on the river banks, but it wasn’t the first time someone from the organization had been interviewed by The Chronicle there.
Just last November, Onalaska and Boistfort elementary school kids were field-tripping to the trail for tree planting. There, I interviewed longtime land trust President Jan Robinson.
But Robinson is winding down her leadership duties while mentoring new President Pete Hammer, 56.
“I’ve been involved with the land trust for a couple of years as a volunteer and board member. I’m a middle school teacher and my class plants trees along the Nisqually river,” Hammer said. “I got involved with the Chehalis River Basin Land Trust because I wanted to plant some trees close to where I live. I appreciate the direct and real impact our organization has on protecting our environment.”
Essentially, Watt said, the work the trust does is to restore the land they conserve to what it would have been like “before we started messing with stuff.” Elaborating, he listed overgrazing by farm animals, invasive species, and situations where landowners have contributed to erosion as the most major threats.
“I’ve been, over the years, active in different political things and basically gotten frustrated with (not) seeing anything change,” Watt said. “And Pete introduced me to what the land trust does. And basically they are able to do conservation firsthand on properties within the Chehalis River Basin.”
One of the nonprofit’s recent ventures was restoring land on the Hoquiam River to allow for more juvenile salmon habitat during flooding.
“The first priority is protecting properties that we’re involved in. But if we can involve the community and educate kids along the way, that’s great,” Watt said.
He added that his grandfather was a logger in Centralia who told him stories of catching salmon in the Skookumchuck “with a pitchfork.” Although they may not ever be that abundant again, Watt called playing any role in restoring salmon populations fulfilling.
Learn more about the Chehalis River Basin Land Trust at https://www.chehalislandtrust.org/.