- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

PORT ANGELES, Wash. (AP) - The road’s center stripe and fog lines twist like a garter snake south of the Strait of Juan de Fuca on a day so gray that brown looks black.

North of state Highway 112, about 5 acres have been hacked mostly clear of blackberry vines. Sodden fallen leaves are matted onto paths through tangled grass. Above, slender alders, naked and white, sigh in harmony to a stiff southwest wind.

Farther overhead, a half-dozen eagles - no, seven; no, wait, eight - circle against the monochrome sky. Soon, one of them will spot the salmon a flooded Pysht River threw 50 feet from its banks during November’s storms.

This is a desolate tract as it awaits winter, which will turn the scene from merely chilly to downright cold. Yet a peace pervades it as if it hears a silent promise that the land will care for itself and endure.

It’s an appropriate message.

Tom Leonidas, an electrical engineer living in Bellevue, has donated this place to the North Olympic Land Trust, which will merge it with adjacent land it owns along the river.

Passers-by will pause here to stroll, fish or just open their senses.

Edge of sorrow

Leonidas, 57, came by the property in a tragic fashion. It was a settlement for his wife Gloria’s death on May 30, 2012.

That’s when four people perished in a shooting spree at Café Racer in the University District of Seattle.

Gloria Leonidas died about a half-hour later when the shooter, Ian Lee Stawicki, carjacked her SUV on Seattle’s First Hill.

She was 52 and left two daughters - 12 and 17 - and her husband of nearly 20 years.

Four hours passed before Stawicki, 40, killed himself in West Seattle as police closed in.

Tom Leonidas filed a lawsuit against Stawicki’s estate.

“It wasn’t about getting anything,” he said. “It was about getting justice.”

As he put it to land trust officials: “All I wanted was a legal judgment against the man that took Gloria from us and to bring closure for our family.”

Leonidas received the property, which is about 10 miles south of Clallam Bay, earlier this year from the Stawicki estate.

“The shooter didn’t have much, but he did have this property, and we wanted to put it to good use where it could be enjoyed by others,” he said, referring to himself and the couple’s two daughters.

Seeking a way to preserve it for public recreation, Leonidas discovered the Port Angeles-based land trust and learned it held an adjacent 58 acres plus conservation agreements with nearby landowners.

When he contacted the land trust and described the property, “it was like a gift from God,” he said from his home Friday.

“I was pleased to discover that the property runs adjacent to a 58-acre conservation area already owned by the land trust. It was as if it was meant to be.”

“Gloria loved the beauty of nature, and she was passionate about preserving the environment,” Leonidas told the land trust.

“Gloria would have wanted it,” he said Friday.

“It was the right thing to do.”

Preserves 3,200 acres

He became the 90th property owner to donate land or grant easements to the nonprofit conservancy organization, which ensures the properties will be preserved for open space, farming, forestry, healthy watersheds and recreation.

Last month, the land trust reconveyed 21 acres of floodplain at the lower reach of the Elwha River to the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe under an agreement that it be managed for fish and wildlife habitat.

Founded in 1990, the land trust holds rights on 3,200 acres in Clallam and Jefferson counties.

For details on the agency, email info@northolympiclandtrust.org, call 360-417-1815 or visit 104 N. Laurel St., Suite 104, Port Angeles.

Leonidas never had the property appraised but said the Clallam County assessor listed it as worth a little more than $40,000.

He has never seen the property he donated.

“I understand it is a beautiful piece of property,” he wrote to Sanford.

“It is fitting to give it to the land trust to bring something positive out of this tragedy.

“It will allow current and future generations to enjoy this land, and it will play a vital role in preserving the habitat along the Pysht River.”

He plans to visit the land early next year.

There, he’ll pass forest giants as well as saplings struggling to take the land back from scotch broom that land trust volunteers have eradicated.

He’ll hear the breeze make the alders shiver and the conversations of contentious ravens that have flown down from the Olympic Mountains to the river.

And if he looks skyward, he may spy a bald eagle cutting curlicues on the breeze as a carpenter’s plane shaves wood.

It likely won’t surprise him if he senses a presence of something more.

This is a place where that kind of thing happens.


Information from: Peninsula Daily News, https://www.peninsuladailynews.com



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