Nancy Napp leaves a rich legacy

June 11, 2011

The Gorge community lost a bright light this spring when Parkdale resident Nancy Napp died on March 27. But through her efforts, it has gained an important wetland that will be enjoyed for generations to come.

The public is invited to a walking tour of the Nancy Napp Memorial Ecological Refuge today, June 11, from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. The refuge is located at 986 Snowden Road in White Salmon.

"We wouldn't be where we are today without Nancy," said Stephen Finn who, with his wife Sharon Philpott, owns the property where the wetland is located. "Nancy taught me that education is the key difference between total disregard of the environment and proper management of the environment."

Nancy's life was rooted in a love for nature and the outdoors. After earning a bachelor's degree in botany, she worked as a botanist for the Nature Conservancy and the U.S. Forest Service. During the last 10 years, she had her own environmental consulting business in the Gorge.

Finn hired her several years ago when the owner of property adjacent to his on Snowden Road known as "the dump" began draining the wetland on the property in preparation for development.

"Nancy's responsibility was to do an assessment and a wetland delineation to prove that, in fact, this area had historically been a wetland and should remain a wetland and should be designated as such," said Cathryn Whitman, a close friend of Nancy and her family (which includes her husband, Wes Lapp, and daughter, Zan).

Through Nancy's efforts, the area was eventually determined to be a Class 1 wetland, the highest quality of wetland.

Because of certain requirements for the designation - including the necessity of a large buffer zone surrounding it - Nancy encouraged Finn to approach the landowner and try to buy him out, with the goal of restoring and permanently preserving the wetland.

Finn bought the property (for almost $250,000 more than the seller had paid), then encountered still more problems when Klickitat County informed him the area was actually forest land and it could exercise its timber rights and increase his taxes.

Finn wound up having to get the area rezoned from forest to open space recreational use.

"Nancy was the key to all of this because she was able to provide the historical data on the meadow," Whitman said. During her research, Nancy discovered that the wetland recharges an important aquifer.

"What's being protected is water that White Salmon drinks," Whitman said.

Throughout the years-long process, Nancy's knowledge and levelheadedness was vital.

"Nancy's stance was, there's got to be a peaceable means to do this," Whitman said. "That was the essence of who Nancy was. She was always looking for the peaceable solution that was going to protect the environment."

Nancy worked passionately on the wetland restoration even after she was diagnosed with anal cancer more than a year-and-a-half ago.

All told, Finn has 120 acres that he is working to designate as a conservation easement in perpetuity. In keeping with Nancy's vision for the area as an ecological preserve and education center, the acreage will be dedicated as the Nancy Napp Memorial Ecological Refuge and be managed by the Columbia Gorge Ecology Institute.

"I'm so thankful Nancy will have a lasting legacy with this memorial," Whitman said. "Her life was well spent. It wasn't long-lived, but it was rich and it was full."

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