Lowrie receives Stopps environmental award

By Robin Dudley of the Leader
Posted 10/7/14

Ray Lowrie was presented with the 10th annual Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award on Oct. 1.

"I had no clue that anything like this would ever happen," said Lowrie, who taught at …

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Lowrie receives Stopps environmental award


Ray Lowrie was presented with the 10th annual Eleanor Stopps Environmental Leadership Award on Oct. 1.

"I had no clue that anything like this would ever happen," said Lowrie, who taught at Chimacum School from 1960 to 1992.

About 165 people attended the Stewardship Breakfast in the Fort Worden Commons, where Lowrie was presented with the award by Janine Boire, executive director of the Port Townsend Marine Science Center (PTMSC). Attendees donated $25,160 at the breakfast, and an anonymous donor provided a $25,000 challenge match for a total of $50,160 raised, said Liesl Strabagh of the PTMSC.

Lowrie's contribution to environmental stewardship was "extraordinary," Boire said, because he knew "if kids understood nature, they'd protect it ... [he] transformed these kids into stewards who protectively guarded" the creek.

Lowrie taught biology and vocational education, including a "commercial marine" class.

With the help of fisheries biologist Ray Johnson, he built a hatchery on campus along Chimacum Creek, an "Adams Hatchery–style" pond raceway.

"We got the plans from the George Adams Hatchery down at Hood Canal," Lowrie said, and the students got the salmon eggs from the national fish hatchery in Quilcene.

"They trained my kids how to do it," Lowrie said. "We became semi-official crew" there for four or five years.

Lowrie organized all kinds of projects for his students, putting them to work restoring the creek to be safe for spawning salmon, sampling the gravel, surveying and counting returning salmon, and running the hatchery on campus. In so doing, he influenced generations of students, instilling a sense of ownership and spirit of preservation of Chimacum Creek as a habitat for salmon.

Kids who had killed spawning fish for fun became, after learning from Lowrie, vehement protectors of the fish and the streams.

"Those kids actually became evangelical in protecting their turf down there and keeping the fish safe," he said.

Getting kids involved in real-world projects "was the easy part" of teaching, he said, and a lot of fun.

"One weekend, we planted about 4,000 trees down by Hood Canal," he recalled. "Every year we had some kind of project we were doing."

One of the last projects he did, was "re-meandering" Putaansuu Creek in the last 1980s. The creek had been "ditched" by the Army Corps of Engineers to divert water from a field, and Lowrie led his students in turning it back into a salmon stream.

"The old channels were still there in the field," Lowrie said, "so we re-dug it ... a fisheries guy came out from Port Angeles and marked out where he wanted the meanders to go. Fred Hill donated truckloads of special wash gravel we put in the streambed ... when it was all ready, we diverted the stream from the ditch to the stream. The kids put about 26 little dams" to create small pools for the fish to rest in on their way upstream.


In 1974-75, Lowrie had his students build a Monk-design, 28-foot fishing boat. About 80 kids worked on it; it took about a year, he said. A master boatbuilder named Mr. McCool did the design and was the "honcho," Lowrie said, but the kids did the work.

They had a special fishing permit allowing a 3,000-foot net, but they only used "about 800 feet of net," Lowrie said. "We had what I call toy nets. Our trawls were anything they could pull by hand. We had no winches or anything; I didn't want that kind of power on the boat. It wasn't a case of getting rich fishing. It was 'this is how you do it.'"

Some students joined that class because they wanted to be "rich commercial fishermen," Lowrie said. But when they tried it, and learned "there's no clothing you can buy that's going to keep you warm and dry," they learned they didn't like it, which was a good lesson.

"When I was teaching boat handling, the only rule was, don't get hurt, don't hurt somebody, don't break the boat. Otherwise there's no mistakes ... and the kids loved it."

"We had a lot of girls in the class, and they were really good boat handlers," he added. "They were tough and they were smart."

The boat, which the students named "Carina" after the keel star in the constellation Argo, was sold in 1992.

Lowrie also influenced local farmers, who began letting Lowrie's students do projects that kept cows out of the creek to prevent erosion. Lowrie and the kids built fences and a watering trough in the creek so that only the cows' noses could get into the water, to prevent creek erosion.

The first year counting salmon in Chimacum Creek, they counted 15 endangered dog [chum] salmon, he said. About 20 years later, there were 1,500 to 2,000 there below the culvert, he said, and about 5,000 silvers. The fish count was "frosting on the cake," Lowrie said. The "cake," the real victory, was "care for the riparian zone."

He said he appreciates the award, and encourages everyone to remember the benefits of teaching young people about the natural world and transforming them into stewards.

"Each one of us has something to give to this planet."


Eleanor Stopps (1920-2012) was a powerful advocate for lasting protection of the North Olympic Peninsula environment. In the 1960s and 1970s she recognized the need to protect the marine environment of the Salish Sea. With no special political base or powerful financial backers, she testified before the Washington State Legislature and the United States Congress and was instrumental in getting legislation and public support for protection of the area. According to the PTMSC, Stopps was responsible for the establishment of the Protection Island Sanctuary, the only refuge created during the Reagan administration and a critical link in the preservation of the whole Salish Sea region.

Since 2005, Stopps' legacy of citizen leadership in efforts to protect the environment of the North Olympic Peninsula has been recognized through the Environmental Leadership Award.

The Stopps Leadership Award is granted annually to a citizen of the North Olympic Peninsula who has led a successful resource conservation effort, acted as a community catalyst for programs or initiatives, or become a model for future leaders in business and education in implementing decisions that help communities move toward environmental sustainability.


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