A cattle rancher and a neighbor of mine in the Nisqually Watershed, Kenny lived the life of a steward. He proved the belief that actions speak louder than words. No one’s actions spoke louder than Kenny’s.
My lifelong friend passed away this summer, but his legacy will live on.
Kenny was a champion of the Nisqually River. He took a bold stand against converting the estuary into an open water port. Without him, the mouth of the Nisqually might be like many rivers in the Puget Sound: saturated with poisons, bloated with urban sprawl and devoid of fish, animals and birds.
Decades ago, he enthusiastically came to the table as citizens, governments and businesses from the mouth of the Nisqually to Mount Rainier decided to work together to preserve natural habitat along our river. With Kenny’s help we established the Nisqually River Task Force and, with his ongoing support, it grew into an effort that has inspired watershed management programs near and far.
In the winter of his life, Kenny could have subdivided his 420 acres, permitted development to creep in, and live out his years a wealthy man. But Kenny was interested in other kinds of riches. He didn’t value his property by what it was worth in dollars.
Instead he sold his property to the Nisqually Tribe, knowing that we would manage it in a way to protect and enhance the quality of all life in the delta. He knew we would tear down the dikes that his family built to protect their fields from the saltwater.
Today, those fields are a nesting place for birds, an incubator for young salmon, and a refuge for returning adult salmon. Despite the pressures of growth that Kenny felt and fought much of his life, the estuary is still a place where you can still smell the tide that supports life throughout the watershed.
That estuary is Kenny’s memorial.
Several hundred people braved near-freezing temperatures to dedicate the newly created Braget Marsh and to say goodbye to Kenny. Tribal members rejoiced with dancing, drumming and singing.
The tide moved in slowly. Only this time, the water reclaimed the land where Kenny’s cattle once roamed. It glided onto the land that, until that day, had been kept dry by 9,000 feet of dikes. One hundred acres of the old Braget farm were reclaimed by the waters of Puget Sound, soon to be occupied by a variety of fish, waterfowl and thousands of other native species.
The estuary is coming to life again, right in front of our eyes, and I think Kenny is smiling.
Billy Frank Jr. is the chairman of the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.
For more information, contact: Steve Robinson or Tony Meyer, NWIFC (360) 438-1180