Here in Wallowa County we know the value of Wallowa Lake. It’s the place we take our visitors even if the weather is abysmal. We boat, swim and picnic on its bank; this magnificent feature in our backyard is a part of our lifestyle, like eating local beef and salad greens.

Anglers are so nutty they will fish the lake in the dead of winter and a few daring souls celebrate the new year with the shortest swim known to man - the Wallowa Lake polar bear plunge.

No matter the season, every photograph from the north shore of the lake is postcard-perfect with Mt. Howard, Bonneville Mountain and Mt. Joseph as its backdrop. The lake provides world-class kokanee fishing and is the only public swimming pool in the county.

Wallowa County residents, from the Nez Perce until today, revere the lake and its moraines as sacred ground; home to fish and wildlife as well as harvestable timber and livestock forage.

Wallowa County and its moraines are so important that the county’s land use plan says, “All Wallowa Lake Basin Moraines be preserved as scientific natural areas, significant to the County, State and nation.”

Wallowa Land Trust was formed to protect the rural nature of the county – its wildlife habitat, beautiful open spaces and working lands. For many years we have worked with moraines landowners to discern how best to maintain the integrity of their property and its conservation values for generations to come.

In the fall of 2014, Wallowa Land Trust bought almost 30 acres of undeveloped land on the West Moraine.It can only be accessed, right now, by permission from an adjacent landowner.

A short hike through Douglas fir, tamarack and ponderosa pine to the ridge top affords a view of the middle of the lake and the East Moraine.The face of the moraine is steep and covered in grass from the ridge to midslope where the ponderosa grows to the toe of the slope. There are a number of boulders (erratics) deposited by the glaciers that formed Wallowa Lake.

From Lake Shore Road, the property is virtually inaccessible without technical rock climbing gear, but we advise against it; the hillside is brittle.

The undeveloped land went into foreclosure with the county in 2010. In 2014 it was offered at auction, but there were no bidders. Wallowa Land Trust purchased the property from the county for the full appraised value of $102,620 with money from the Penstemon Fund, a subfund of the Hells Canyon and Eagle Cap Land and Restoration Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation.

The Penstemon Fund was created from a lawsuit settlement with Portland General Electric over the state’s only coal-fired power plant at Boardman. The Fund provides money for clean energy projects as well as land acquisition and habitat restoration in the Columbia River Gorge, Hells Canyon and the Eagle Cap wildernesses.

Our intention is to maintain the West Moraine property in its current undeveloped state, managing it for its open space values and the critical wildlife habitat it provides. Wildlife sightings such as elk, cougars and big shorn sheep reported by neighbors confirm what we already knew – this is an incredible property with exceptional habitat.At some point in the future public access is a possibility. As a nonprofit, we can apply for property tax exemption, however we will not do so and will continue to pay property taxes.

We want to extend our gratitude to the community members and neighboring landowners who voiced their support of our efforts to protect this property. You made this acquisition possible! This latest success moves us another step closer to conserving the iconic moraines of Wallowa Lake - one of the world’s most perfectly formed and well-preserved glacial landscapes. Together with private landowners, community members and supporters, we will continue our work to protect this crown jewel of Oregon.

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Photo © Dave Jensen