Over the course of this year, North Olympic Land Trust collaborated with our community to safeguard two valuable farms while also remaining committed to conserving the forests, shorelines, and wetlands that characterize this region.
Because of supporters like you, we’ve just permanently protected critically important habitat in the scenic foothills of Blyn—a 33-acre property called Wood Duck Hollow.
Thank you for supporting conservation on the Olympic Peninsula! As a member of the Land Trust community, you actively contribute to the protection of this beloved place.
The story of Wood Duck Hollow is one of a deep love and commitment to this place we call we home. We hope you find it as inspiring as we do! Read on to learn more.
Looking for a different landscape after living in Ventura, California for many years, Charlotte Watts, an ER doctor, took a drive to find a new place to build a life. “I needed to escape El Nino’s pummeling of my house, and the violence in the emergency rooms.” Charlotte had lived in Seattle earlier in her life, but only for a handful of months. She had pleasant memories of her time up in the Pacific Northwest and headed north to find a new home. “When I got to this area, I could feel that this was a perfect place to restart.”
Charlotte’s heart ultimately landed on the Peninsula where she worked with a real estate agent to find the perfect spot to call “home.” After many showings, she finally found a piece of land. “In 1990, I took my first steps on what today we call ‘Wood Duck Hollow.’ Immediately I could sense that this land has a ‘good heart.’ I sensed a calming and spiritual feeling and knew this was the place for me.”
To see Wood Duck Hollow only makes Charlotte’s story more impressive. Unlike today, where most of Wood Duck Hollow’s forests have regenerated, and the ponds and meadow are looked after, the property Charlotte saw that day in 1990 stood in stark contrast. “The forest had been clear cut and only small trees surrounded the acreage. There were fences with barbed wire. The property had been used by livestock. But there was a pond with ducks, scraggly willows, and poplars. I could see the soul of the property.”
So Charlotte bought Wood Duck Hollow and moved in. Into what? Charlotte moved into a makeshift apartment on the top floor of a barn/house. “The upstairs had a bedroom, bathroom and a kitchen. Downstairs is where I stored my things. The first thing I built was a darkroom, to immediately continue my photography”.
I had no idea what I was getting into that first winter. To heat the house, I had a boiler that needed to be fed wood. A first for me. I’d never seen so much snow! As an emergency physician, I had to make special arrangements with the fire department to get me down the hill to work.”
Over time Charlotte worked on her house, converting the meager one-bedroom apartment into a multilevel home-gallery-studio-library. She’s built a yurt, while taking advantage of many of the structures she inherited.
She also met Charlotte—you read that right—Charlotte Watts met Charlotte McElroy. “I was from Ventura, and Charlotte M. was living in Ojai, CA, not far from Ventura. She was the first woman principal of a middle school in Ventura. In 1992, I was working at OMC, but recovering from a broken ankle, which I got from ladder fall while working on a new addition to the house. Laid up and looking at the mail, I noticed a letter from a Charlotte McElroy. After a separation Charlotte M. experienced, a mutual friend had told her to reach out to me–that we share a lot in common. Charlotte M.’s first reaction was, ‘I’m done with relationships,’ but she did write to me, and I wrote back. That was the start of our relationship.”
Charlotte M. worked in California, elevating her school to become an Outstanding State School in 1991 and a National Distinguished School in 1992—two notable achievements considering the school she inherited was performing poorly. In January 1993, a sign went up at Wood Duck Hollow: “The House of Charlottes.” And in 1995, Charlotte M. retired and moved permanently to Wood Duck Hollow.
“Charlotte M. got things done, she was a ‘just do it’ type of person and that was her motto,” Charlotte W. reflects when asked about the impact Charlotte M. had on Wood Duck Hollow. “She shared the same vision for Wood Duck Hollow, and the desire to always be doing something important. We both were excited to conserve Wood Duck Hollow.” With two folks protecting and enhancing Wood Duck Hollow, the opportunities to make a lasting impact on the land grew.
Along the way Charlotte W. fell in love with wood ducks, also. “I learned about the Schoutens and their mission to support endangered or threatened waterfowl. I reached out to Debbie and Arnold and asked them about wood duck houses around my pond, and how to attract them. Arnold urged me to come on over and talk with him. When I arrived, we chatted, he gave me some pointers, and with little fanfare, reached into a box with a wild hen and removed five eggs. He handed them to me and said: ‘hatch these.’”
Charlotte carried the eggs home in a box and hatched them in an egg incubator. All five developed a bond with Charlotte, who cared for them, while slowly exposing them to the wild world. They were lovingly banded by Charlotte, with direction from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. Once old enough, Charlotte introduced the ducklings to her large pond.
“You see it in their eyes. One day they’re your ducklings, and the next day they’re wild ducks.” The ducks migrated south, as they do, but would return year after year, even laying eggs in the boxes Charlotte set up.
“I continued to raise ducks and would see them return. By the third generation, my ducks became familiar with me and my patterns on a deeper level. I would call for them, and they would come to me, even as adults several years later. They were wild ducks, but they clearly saw me as a friend, the pond a haven—a house with wide-open windows*.”
“I learned that one of my ducks traveled as far as the rice fields near Sacramento.” The news of the wood duck found in Northern California was bittersweet, though Charlotte might argue it was all bitter. “New Year’s Day I got a call from someone. He said, ‘I have your duck,’ and he read me the numbers then he said, ‘I just shot it.’” The call came from a hunter who had hunted Prima, the name Charlotte had given the hen she raised and would later learn traveled to the Sacramento area where she was hunted.
Charlotte stopped banding her ducks, preferring not to know the outcomes. Legal or not, the idea of someone hunting the ducks Charlotte hand raised was too much, she didn’t want further confirmation. “I raise them to be wild ducks, not game birds.” At one point wood ducks were “threatened with near extinction” according to Ducks Unlimited due to habitat loss and “market” hunting (hunting for resale, often for feathers). Another issue wood ducks face is a high mortality rate among ducklings, which is why some folks like Charlotte and the Schoutens raise wood duck ducklings, to increase the number of breeding adults the following year.
Today, wood duck numbers are considered stable and are officially listed as a species of least concern in most of their historic range. The rebound of this species is in large part because of the protections put in place to prevent overhunting and habitat loss, coupled with folks who lovingly care for young ducklings to increase the number of hatchlings making it to adulthood.
Beyond the wood ducks, Charlotte’s made excellent use of her photography studio. “In California, I lived on the beach, photographing it almost daily. I have photographed water zillions of times; it is endlessly changing. Nothing stays the same; there’s always a renewal. When I moved to Wood Duck Hollow I worried, what would I do without the ocean in front of me? It quickly became clear, just looking out my windows I was always seeing something different. I installed an excess of windows in my house just to see the view.”
Wood Duck Hollow continues to inspire Charlotte’s photography, alongside her other artistic endeavors. “There was a giant male bobcat at my place just this past weekend. He was huge, but before I could grab my camera he was gone. Still, his visit inspires me. I also try to look beyond the landscape and animals because I’ve learned you never really know what you’ll notice, including subtle changes. The longer I live at Wood Duck Hollow, the better I am at spotting changes, like a small bird print that wasn’t there yesterday.” When Charlotte first moved to Wood Duck Hollow the clearcut forest made her think deeply about what trees would grow quickly and be appropriate for our area and this land. She focused on native trees and shrubs, like hemlocks, cedars, and manzanitas, which had already been on the land.
The meadow, which starts at a highpoint of the property and streams down the hill like ribbon adorning the forest, is an important feature of Wood Duck Hollow. Meadows and prairies—we’ll let you dive into the technical differences between the two—are critical habitats for plants, invertebrates, mammals, birds, and reptiles. Once a prominent feature of the Peninsula, most of these habitats have been reforested, converted to farms, or built on.
At the top of the meadow is a large patch of snowberries. When the days are warm enough, the bush buzzes with bumble bees. So many bumble bees Xerces Society has sent volunteers to perform a count. Circling birds of prey, delightful songbirds, Sequim megafauna and many native bee species visit or live in the meadow, making it a delight to watch from the windows of the house, or when out for a walk around the property.
“Wood Duck Hollow Creek is another important corridor for animals. Bobcat and bear prints dot the soil, and animal paths can be seen all along the creek,” Charlotte notes with glinty eyes. “I maintain a small, unobtrusive trail down along the creek to the ‘Little Pond’ so I can monitor it for invasive plants and also enjoy the creek/little pond itself and all the wildlife/plant life it supports: It’s a riparian heaven.”
Charlotte reminisces, “Lots of folks have helped me. I can’t overstate how much I was inspired and motivated by so many friends: the Schoutens early on, Pat and John Willits who encouraged me with their own enthusiasm and property and Dave Shreffler and Ann Soule, who recently helped me draft a hydrology report.” The report is extremely useful to understand how and where the water on the property flows, and ultimately how best to manage this property.
Caring for Wood Duck Hollow takes vigilance, both spiritually and physically. “It’s getting harder to get to the most densely vegetated areas,” Charlotte bemoans, “and the animals are having a more difficult time navigating the trails they’ve made and maintained.” Trees that have succumbed to drought—physical representation of climate change—have fallen in many places, making it hard to cut through the forest. Dead and fallen trees lead to a riot of underbrush growth, which in a healthy ecosystem would sort itself out, but with so many trees dying, the dead wood and the overabundance of underbrush is making for a “disorganized” or “jumbled” forest. The Land Trust is supporting Charlotte towards being the best land steward she can. Different management techniques are under consideration to help address these issues.
Meadows also require work, especially if you don’t want them overrun with trees, bushes, and invasive weeds. “I focus on getting rid of non-native thistle and reed canary grass, while keeping the trees and shrubs at bay,” Charlotte quips, while looking at her callused hands. She also sows native seeds and bulbs to enhance the biodiversity of the meadow.
Friends like the Schoutens, Pat and John, and Dave and Ann, have made some of this work easier. Charlotte notes, “so many folks have volunteered their time to support the restoration of Wood Duck Hollow. They, along with North Olympic Land Trust, have continued to reinforce the knowledge that, ‘yes, Wood Duck Hollow is an important property to protect because it’s a part of a larger whole.’ I’m grateful for the help, advice, and inspiration.”
This impressive restoration work has led to some important notoriety. Wood Duck Hollow is proudly a Certified Wildlife Habitat through the National Wildlife Federation, a WA State Pesticide Free Zone, and a Xerces Society Pollinator Habitat. Charlotte beams, “The signs are proudly displayed on the outside of the garage. Every sign represents incremental steps towards a better habitat. I want people to see the signs and know they can do it, too. Sometimes the only action you need to take is no action, like stopping the use of pesticides. That’s easy to do, and it’s a significant benefit to so many creatures we love.”
The restoration work was made more difficult when she lost Charlotte M. in 2020. Charlotte W. lost her partner–the person who operated under the premise of “just do it.” Charlotte M.’s legacy continues to this day in the hundreds of pupils she helped lead while she earned the status as one of the 100 best principals in the US. On an old blogpost Charlotte M. was asked by the interviewer: “On a personal level, what gives you joy?” To which she replied: “All the years I spent with so many wonderful kids of all ages gives me great joy.”
Charlotte M. was a major force in the ultimate conservation of Wood Duck Hollow, having first attempted to permanently conserve it back in 2013. At the time, it wasn’t ready for conservation, but the two Charlottes worked together, and ultimately both Charlottes are to be celebrated for this incredible accomplishment.
Today, Charlotte W. reminisces before she signs the final paperwork donating her conservation easement and protecting Wood Duck Hollow forever: “I love this land and all that it has brought me. When I acquired it, it was devastated by clear cuts and livestock. Today, I look out and see the power of time and the will to leave a place better than you found it.”
“Wood Duck Hollow officially has a conservation easement on it, held by North Olympic Land Trust. Long after I’m gone, this land will continue to be protected, and that means the birds, bees, bobcats and bears I love will continue to find refuge at Wood Duck Hollow.”
When asked what Charlotte M. would say if she were here signing too, Charlotte paused, took a breath, looked out the window beyond the Olympic peaks, and with the tiniest crack in her voice, she looked back at me and smiled, “Today’s a good day for her, too.”
*Inspired by May Sarton’s “Of Havens,” Charlotte reflects on what it means to have a home with big windows looking out on Wood Duck Hollow.
Though we dream of an airy intimacy,
Open and free, yet sheltering as a nest
For passing bird, or mouse, or ardent bee,
Of love where life in all its forms can rest
As wind breathes in the leaves of a tree;
Though we dream of never having a wall against
All that must flow and pass, and cannot be caught,
An ever-welcoming self that is not fenced,
Yet we are tethered still to another thought:
The unsheltered cannot shelter, the exposed
Exposes others; the wide-open door
Means nothing if it cannot be closed.
Those who create real havens are not free,
Hold fast, maintain, are rooted, dig deep wells;
Whatever haven human love may be,
There is no freedom without sheltering walls.
What we see is a house, and a wide-open window.