The day Don Rich died

July 17th, 2018 by Ken

July 17, 1974, was a long day for Don Rich.

He had spent the day at Buck Owen’s Bakersfield studio and was heading on his bike to meet his family for a vacation.   Buck Owen’s never liked Don riding.  He often asked him to stop and drive a car instead.   Don didn’t listen and headed out US 1.  Sometime in the middle of the night, his bike hit a center divider strip and Don was killed.

A Tumwater kid, Don was an early student of music.   He began playing the fiddle and other instruments and was well-known around the Olympia area.   At the young age of 16 Don was playing the bars around the area, and it was at one of them that Buck Owens noted him and asked him to play.

Buck was living in Tacoma at the time and was playing a regular gig at Steven’s Gay 90’s on Old 99 in Tacoma.  Don played many gigs with Don but wasn’t certain he could make a living at music so he enrolled at Centralia Community College.  He thought he might be a teacher and teach music.

But, Buck continued to insist that Don join him and eventually he did.  His musical style encompassed rock and roll along with country music, with a twang of Western Swing.  After a few starts and stops, Buck Owens had a hit record “Under Your Spell Again” and the rest is music history.

Don was the perfect partner for Buck and influenced Buck’s style into developing the “Bakersfield Sound.”  Don led the band, the Buckaroos, and had his own hit, a western instrumental called “Buckaroos”.

Buck often said that he owes his fame and fortune to Don Rich.

On that clear day in 1974 Don Rich died.  And so did Buck’s career.

(Editors note:  Don Rich (Don Ulrich) was my neighbor in Tumwater.  We went to Olympia High School, although Don was a year ahead of me.  Don is a member of the Olympia High School Hall of Fame – – and has his own display at the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville.  Some of the information contained in this story came from “The Bigfoot Diaries” on line.)

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Worthless piece of paper

July 16th, 2018 by Ken

It’s election time in Thurston County.   You can tell – – you’ve just received your Voters Pamphlet in the mail.

To many, this voter’s guide in the ultimate political tool.   It’s the one piece of printed matter they depend upon to give them the correct information on the candidates and issues.  Because it comes from the government – – in this case  the Thurston County Auditors office, – – everything in this document is true and accurate.

Boy, are you wrong.   It’s just another worthless piece of paper.

Because, nothing contained in this so called ‘voters guide’ has been vetted to determine the truth.   Actually, the Washington State Supreme Court says you can actually lie in the guide.   It’s a First Amendment thing.

The statements are written by the candidates or their supporters.  It is not edited for grammar, content or truth.  It’s just another piece of political propaganda put out by politicians and paid for by you – – the taxpayer.

Do not believe anything in the voters guide you received in the mail.   Get your information from other sources. Talk to people you trust, go to candidate forums, educate yourself.

Don’t be an ignorant voters – – and don’t believe a word of what you read in the Voter’s Pamphlet.

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The Story Teller

July 12th, 2018 by Ken

I’m partly a journalist and partly a writer, but I’m a complete Story Teller.

As a story teller I’ve learned to never let facts get in the way of a good story.  A good story can often contain fabrications, white lies and stretched truths.

People have been telling stories for millenniums – – around campfires, from traveling minstrels and by way of local cultural outlets.  Good stories keep the listeners interest.

Real facts are often boring.  But a good story contains people you want to know, places you want to go and  adventures you want to undertake.

No story ever told  – no matter how good – has ever been hurt by a little embellishment.

Lets start with a waitress called Carol.   There really was  such a person and her story follows.

The first time I saw Carol she was pouring coffee.  The last time I saw Carol, she was pouring coffee.  It never occurred  to Carol that someone would come into her 10-seat diner and not want a cup of coffee.

I saw her that morning when I came in for breakfast.   I was going to the police department for an interview and felt I needed to eat something before facing the questions and the accusations.

She turned over my cup, filled it up, and said, “What it’ll be honey?”  I ordered a short stack and she left, placed the order with the cook and went on to take care of her customers.

They were all men, and all regulars.  She greeted each one by name, filled up the coffee cup at the seat they always took, and placed their order before they had sat down.  “The usual,” she said, even though the cook was starting to make their breakfast.

She engaged each of the men in conversation, asking about their kids, their jobs and what they were planning to do this coming weekend.   I never heard her ask about their wives, because it was obvious from the way she treated them, that most of them were no longer married.

Carol inquired about their health, smiled when the answer was a positive and frowned when it wasn’t good news.

All the time she kept filling up their coffee cups.

I got engrossed in watching the action.   It was almost like a movie and I was just an observer

I never saw her leave a bill in front of any of her regulars, but they all reached into their wallets and placed an amount on the table before they left.   She trusted them and they responded.

When I finished eating, she came over, put a bill on my table, asked me if I wanted more coffee, said thanks and went back to her regulars..   I left my money – plus on the table and walked out the door.   As I left, I looked back and saw Carol pouring coffee.


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Indian treaty rights have standing

July 5th, 2018 by Ken

For more than 200 years, the Federal Government has been negotiating treaties and land use issues with the Native Americans, whose land and waters they coveted.   And, for 200 years the government has ignored or thrown aside those treaties, when the government and the white settlers wanted the land.

The examples of government indifference to treaty rights could (and has) filled several book. The Sioux are still waiting for the return of the Black Hills and the Trail of Tears remains fresh in the stories the southern tribes still tell.

The same held true here in the Northwest where tribes saw their treaty lands slowly dissolve over decades and centuries of neglect and indifference.

Until the 1970’s, that is, and the Bolt decision which ruled that treaty tribes were granted half of all the salmon running in streams and rivers in the state.  That ruling was later upheld by the United States Supreme Court.

The  high court’s recent ruling that the state and local governments had to remove or repair culverts so the salmon can make their way to the spawning grounds was just the latest in more than half a dozen findings that upheld tribal treaty rights.

I’m not certain that the Sioux will ever get the Black Hills back, or the Creek, Cherokee and other southern tribes will ever get their dues – – but it does demonstrate that things are changing, and that lands and rights spelled out by those marks on paper hold some weight.

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Odds and ends

July 2nd, 2018 by Ken

The Olympia School District is going out for bids on renovation of the old Daily Olympian building as the location for its new district office.   Bids will be go out later this month.   Engineer’s estimate of cost for making the facility into a district office is $3.3 million.

Intercity Transit is just one of several government agencies thinking about about asking voters for more money.  Those who run 911 dispatch are seeking more money, local school districts are also looking at bond issues in the near future and our city governments are eyeing addition financial support for various projects.

For more than four decades, planners have been touting the benefit of “walkable communities.”  Almost every local comprehensive plan dealing with development, calls for “walkable communities”.    These usually call for wider sidewalks, narrower streets, trees and plants along right-of-way and constructing buildings up to the street line.  Two things are often missing in these plans however – – interesting views along the walkway and someplace to go when they get there.

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It’s too quiet

July 1st, 2018 by Ken

It’s just too damn quiet.

Where’s the noise? Where’s the pops and bangs, the cracks and booms?   After all, it is a day or so away from the Fourth of July and there’s not a crack, pop, bang or boom to be heard.

How can you celebrate this nation’s birthday without the activities which made it so special?

We’ll still have the picnics, the family get togethers and the other things which make up the Fourth of July.  We’ll still have the community fireworks that appeal to those who find some fascination in believing that non-personal lights in the sky is a celebration of our country. (Disneyland does it every night.)

But, without the kids and the noise they make with their personal fireworks, we’re just going through the motions.  It was that individual celebration every time we set off a firecracker or bottle rocket, that made the Fourth so special. Yes, and even the feeling that it was a little dangerous, but that some danger was necessary to show that we really cared about our country.  That’s now gone.

And, it’s too damn quiet.

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Larry Otos remembered

June 27th, 2018 by Ken

The death of Larry Otos last week brought back memories for me of the adventures he took me on.

Larry was the first director of the Thurston County parks and recreation department.  Hired in the mid 70’s, Larry was a visionary who saw how important parks and park land would become in the future.   Under his leadership Thurston County obtained a number of parks including Burfoot and Frye Cove.  Long Lake park was later turned over to  the City of Lacey.

But, it was Straddleline Park on the border of Thurston County and Grays Harbor counties which gave Larry the most trouble.  Thurston County purchased the private park  and renamed it  Thurston Grays Harbor ORV sports park.  The park was used for motorcycle racing, four-wheeling and recreational vehicles.  Larry drew a lot of criticism for allowing motorized sports in the Capitol Forest but his answer was four wheelers are our citizens as well and need a place in which they too can have fun.

Larry used to take community leaders on canoe trips on local rivers.  I was lucky to take two trips with him.  On the first we canoed down the Black River to the Chehalis River and then on to Elma.  To see how wild the Black River was amazed me and still sticks with me today.   The second trip was on the Satsop.  We started with three canoes, lost one on the rocks and in two overloaded canoes carried on wet and cold.  May weather with sleet and hail almost did us in with hypothermia.  But, It was a great adventure and just what Larry wanted community leaders to do.  Appreciate nature in all of its activities.

Larry later went on to other adventures in California.  During the recession of 08-09 the parks director’s position in Thurston County was eliminated.  But Larry’s impact on Thurston County remains.

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Tumwater history renewed

June 21st, 2018 by Ken

The City of Tumwater has entered into a contract with the Olympia Tumwater Foundation to manage city-owned historical properties along DesChutes Parkway.

As determined, the Foundation – which currently manages the Schmidt House and Tumwater Falls Park, will manage the Henderson House, the Crosby House and Tumwater Historical Park.

Discussions are underway as to just when the Henderson House will re-open and in what context.  While the Daughters of the Pioneers manage the Crosby House, it’s actually owned by the City of Tumwater.  The Foundation will use its expertise in property management to assist when necessary.

It’s possible the Henderson House and its photo exhibits may re-open by September, but things are not static and dates of opening could change.

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Who’s watching the mayor?

June 14th, 2018 by Ken

That’s what members of the Olympia City Council are saying today.   Who’s watching the mayor?

Seems Mayor Cheryl Selby is too “conservative” for the current city council makeup and some members of that body are concerned that she is talking “off script.”  At its recent retreat, several members of the group have decided that the mayor should never be alone when she is in public at an official event.

They have decided that one of them will accompany the mayor anytime she’s out in an official capacity.

I haven’t learned who keeps the calendar and the work list, but word has it that one of her possible opponents in the next city council election may be the one in charge.

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A solution to Olympia’s problem?

June 11th, 2018 by Ken

A recent editorial in The Olympian again expressed the opinion that homelessness was a regional problem, and that Lacey and Tumwater should do more to help the City of Olympia out of its current situation of being overrun by those seeking a place to live and help with their respective problems.

I recently received this letter addressing the problem Olympia has created for itself.

“We have all been raised to look for the big sale, the discount, the something for free – or as cheap as you can get it.   The best example is the sale at the grocery store.   People bring in their coupons to get the best price.  The same goes for every income level.   The only difference is in what the items are.

“When you offer housing at a discount, people will swarm to it.  When it becomes known that it will be free – – the lines start early, even months ahead.  Word gets out.   In the meantime the growing lines of the poor dot the area with tarps and tents waiting to hear where and when the line starts to get those discounts – or even better,  free stuff.  At the same time, when you say there is an expectation, a trade a barter for the service item, people will do that too.  We have always lived our lives bartering for things.

“Maybe we should put the word out that his free housing requires some type of self-improvement activity.  School, work, rehab, counseling, volunteering  – – just do something.   Giving away housing isn’t cheap or effective in helping those who find themselves homeless for whatever reason.  Bartering to do things that can improve their lives, makes a lot of sense.”


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Lacey council actions

June 8th, 2018 by Ken

The Lacey City Council has a new designation beginning in July – – an Urban City.  Now, with more than 50,000 residents, the City of Lacey will be able to deal with various federal agencies for funds, without going through the Thurston County Commission.   However, the city did agree to continue its current relationship with  the county.

At the urging of Councilmember  Carolyn Cox, the council agreed to fly the Pride Flag this week and continue to fly the flag every June.  There was some resistance by Councilmember Jason Hearn who wanted the city to adopt a policy as it relates to requests from other groups and organizations.  The council agreed to start working on a policy.

A recent survey of voter’s views on city parks was discussed.  Some 67 percent of those surveyed thought Lacey was doing a good or excellent job with its parks.   The survey was taken to ascertain voter opinion of a possible tax increase in the future.

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You can tell the seasons by the local produce

June 3rd, 2018 by Ken

It’s strawberry season in the great Pacific Northwest.  I’m not talking about those large tasteless California strawberries which have been in local supermarkets for weeks, I’m talking about the small, red sweet berries that only grow in the Northwest.

Strawberry season to me signals the real beginning of summer like nothing else.  When I was a kid, strawberry picking was what you did immediately upon the close of school.  So when the strawberries came ripe it was the beginning of summer.

You can read the whole flow of summer by what fruits and vegetables are on the market.

Right now it’s strawberries, but cherries will be out for a week or two and the wild mountain huckleberries are also  nearly ripe and ready for picking.

Soon the raspberries will be turning red followed in a week or two by the blackberries; the Rocky Mountain Blackberries, those small berries which grow on the vines lying close to the ground.  Of course the large Himalayans will be ready shortly as well, but they are too seedy and too difficult to prepare..

Most of the beans and peas and common variety backyard vegetable garden crops will be ready about mid-August and so will some of the local apples.  The Yellow Transparent will be ready before then, but followed soon by the Jonathon’s and the Winesaps; all of those other apples which grow on the wet side of the mountains.

By September, the Eastern Washington apples will be offered in our local markets and so will the large ears of corn, super sweet and all grown right here in Thurston County.

Local cucumbers for making pickles, cabbage for making sauerkraut and squashes and gourds of all kinds come ready by September.

By the time the local corn hits the market though, summer will be over.  The fruits and vegetables which marked the flow of the summer days will have come and gone.  Their beginnings marked with anticipation, their endings by sorrow that the season is over.

They don’t stay around very long.  Strawberry season will be over in two to three weeks.  If you haven’t got your local berries by then, it’s too late.  The same is true of the raspberries, two to three weeks and that’s it.  Then they’re gone.

That’s just like all good things.  They don’t stick around very long.  But that’s the beauty of local fruits and vegetables.  We know that they’ll be back again next season, and it’s that anticipation which makes them worthwhile.

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My family’s last war

May 26th, 2018 by Ken

The Balsley’s came to America in 1763 from Switzerland, by way of England, where they had been on the losing end of a religious war.  Balsley’s have fought in every war the colonies and later the United States have had.

It was always assumed that we would join the military and upon high school graduation my two brothers and myself joined up.   My brother Ronny to the Air Force, my brother Roger in the Navy  and myself in the Army.  I don’t remember any great discussion about the merits, it was just what you did.

But, that chain of Balsley’s fighting in every American war, has come to an end.  Not one of my current family members has joined the military in the last two decades.   Vietnam was our family’s last battle.

This Memorial Day weekend I’ve been thinking about our veterans and how a whole generation of Americans have never been forced to take up arms in defense of this country.   The all-volunteer army has taken away the democratization of the military.

While hundreds of thousands of men and woman have fought in the war on terrorism, millions more have had no involvement  with the struggle.  It’s estimated that only three percent of the American public has had any contact with the war. That leaves the new veterans without a major support group.  The World War II vets are almost all gone, as are the Korean War veterans.  The Vietnam vets are the only one left to give their understanding and support to today’s vets.

On this Memorial Day weekend, I think of my brother who is buried in Centralia and wonder who will mind his grave a generation from now.

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Northeast Lacey to get new bus routes

May 24th, 2018 by Ken

Intercity Transit Commission is considering a proposal to bring bus service to Northeast Lacey.

As currently proposed, the transit system would extend bus routes to the north of I-5, using Meridian Road.  The route would go to Willamette Drive, to the new businesses along Marvin Road and back across the freeway with stops at Walmart before getting back on Martin Way.

To do this, the transit system is eliminating eight bus stops on Martin Way and adding ten new stops some north of I-5.

Transit officials say this change will not result in an increase in costs but will be made up by making changes in existing routes.

Extending bus service north of I-5 was a campaign issue in the recent  Lacey city council election.  Carolyn Cox won that election and was appointed as Lacey’s representative to the transit commission.  She should receive some recognition for the new bus service.  With the population and business growth in the Gateway area, more service will be needed in the near future.  But, to gain the recognition of the transit commission that Lacey needed more bus service is an accomplishment.

The Transit Commission has  held a public hearing on these changes of service and others.  There will be a public meeting on those changes on May 30 at the Lacey library.  The commission hopes to approve the new changes and route schedules at its July 18 meeting and make them effective on September 23.

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Same old stuff for Depot sub-area plan

May 22nd, 2018 by Ken

The City of Lacey released its sub area plan for the Depot District Tuesday evening and I came away disappointed in the lack of new ideas.

I’ve been to dozens of planning meetings over the last 40 years.   They all have the same things in common.

They all want to reduce the size of traffic lanes, build larger sidewalks, plant more street trees, make the area more pedestrian and bicycle friendly, adopt new building standards establish building frontage requirements, reduce parking availability – – and the list goes on and on.  Forty years and all the planners can come up with are the same old suggestions we’ve been getting since the 1970’s.

For this plan, I was hoping for some new ideas, some new concepts, something to make the area stand out along with its new museum.  Perhaps widen the Karen Fraser Woodland Trail along Pacific Avenue.  Separate walkers and bikers.  Give space to new transportation possibilities along the trail.  Put in more benches, better landscaping, create an attractive environment along the trail that people will want to visit – – and linger.   Add lemonade stands, umbrella pots and maybe a covered area to hold a picnic.  That’s the type of development I was hoping would come from this plan. Something to attract people and something they could be proud of.

All we got was the same old stuff.  The planners should be ashamed of themselves for their off-the-rack thinking.

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Government to blame for lack of affordable housing

May 22nd, 2018 by Ken

There are several reasons that housing in Thurston County is scarce and costly and many of them are the direct result of government rules and regulations.

It’s estimated by many, that government rules add $35,000 to the cost of every new home built.

Start with zoning.   When government zones property it determines what can go where.  In the process it raises the cost of land available for housing.Restricting housing in the rural areas and forcing it to go into urban areas makes the price of urban property more costly.  And, when urban residents fight the building of new homes in their neighborhoods, the delay raises the price of the property even more.

Government delay in approving building permits also raises the price of housing as builders have to pay banks and financial institutions interest while they wait to gain approval.

Government requirements for construction also adds to the cost.  Recently a friend of mine converted a free-standing garage on his property to a one-bedroom apartment.  The City of Olympia required the installation of a sprinkler system.  This added nearly $5000 to the cost.

But, it’s not only new housing or renovations that are costly.

Over the past 20 years, government has systematically destroyed sub-standard housing that was used by the poor.  Housing that didn’t meet new city codes has been torn down.  Some sold to developers to build new houses that the poor can’t afford.  Government has also restricted and removed trailer parks, traditionally a source of housing for the poor.

There are a many at fault for the lack of affordable housing, but the main villain is government.

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Isolation adds to Evergreen’s problems

May 18th, 2018 by Ken

As The Evergreen State College prepares to celebrate its 45th commencement exercise shortly, those who love the college are concerned about its future.

Recent cutbacks of 10 percent or more have resulted in several programs being cancelled and less options for students.  Enrollment at Evergreen has declined every year for the past 10 years and administrators are struggling to bring some control to a  minority of the student population bent on demonstrations and destruction.

One of the reasons for the college’s struggle is its isolation.  The school is located miles from the City of Olympia’s downtown core and students on campus have no access to stores providing normal living requirements.

Isolation from the community was recognized as a problem from the first time the location of the campus was announced  back in 1967.  State Representative Hal Wolf said he was “disappointed” at the site.  His seatmate Mary Lux  said she was “stunned” by the location selected.  Other community leaders were disappointed or concerned about the isolation of the students from the community.

While isolation is not the only cause for declining enrollment at Evergreen, it can be seen as a reason the number of students who return for the second year is significantly lower than for other state colleges.

Isolation on campus gives students  little or no understanding of real world problems.  It’s to late to move the college to a more urban location, but it’s not to late to begin a dialogue with the college administration about bringing the community to the college.


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Inflation peeks over the horizon

May 15th, 2018 by Ken

I’m no economist, but I do know a little about how our economy works.

I think inflation is about to raise its head and sneak into our lives once again.   I base that statement on observation and not by any calculations by those in the know.

For the last decade, we’ve been around right around an annual inflation rate of about two percent.  Actually, just a little below two percent.   The federal government would like us to be around three percent – a level they think we need in order to keep job growth high and and the economy growing

So far this year , we’re running just over two percent, but I see signs that the rate will soon rise.

Locally, we can see inflation in three different areas – – housing, meat and gasoline.  There are independent reasons for the increase in price for all three of those areas, but added together I see troubling times ahead for those on a fixed income.

And, most of us on a fixed income can remember the 1970’s and the 13 percent inflation rate which hit this country so hard.  We don’t want to go back to those days, but many of our elected officials weren’t around then and many people have never seen high interest rates brought on by inflation, or the cost of living so expensive that we didn’t know how we would survive.

I’m just calling attention to the future.  The signs are there.

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My advice to new graduates

May 13th, 2018 by Ken

Nobody has ever asked me to be the speaker at a graduation ceremony – – not college, not high school, not even kindergarten.  But, I know what I would tell them – – avoid commitments.

It’s a simple piece of advice – – avoid taking on commitments until you know exactly what you want to do and where you want to do it.

Most graduates, diploma in hand – venture into the real world looking for work.  After all, they have student loans to pay off and parents who have expectations that their investment in higher  education will pay dividends.  The sooner the better.

But, that’s not the way to go. Young people need to avoid taking jobs they don’t want to get money they need, to buy things they think they need.

Commitments do one thing — they tie you down.   They make it impossible to venture into activities which will foster your additional education and perhaps put you on a path that you really want to tread.

Buying a house is a long term commitment.  Marriage is a long term commitment.  Children are a long term commitment.  Paying work is a long term commitment because it often leads to the things I just mentioned.

Once you make commitments, you’re tied down.  You don’t have the flexibility to take advantage of other opportunities that might come your way.   You have to pay your bills.  You have to consider your spouse or partner.  You have to consider the impact on any children you may have.   All of these commitments stand in the way of being able to move in other directions.

So, here’s my advice.   Rent don’t buy.  Try not to get too serious with a partner until you’ve had a few years of experience to fall back on.   Never have children until you’re stable.   And, never, ever, take a job that you don’t like just to pay the bills.   Not even in good jobs with promotional possibilities.

Most of you will ignore my advice until it’s too late and you’re stuck.  By that time you have a partner you love, children that love you and friendships developed on the job that you don’t want to lose.

Be honest, be straight forward with people, keep your eyes open for opportunities and above all – – find out what you really want to do with your life – before you take on major commitments.


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Karen Fraser to he honored

May 10th, 2018 by Ken

The Woodland Trail, which runs between Olympia and Lacey will soon get a new name.

Starting on June 2, the trail will be re-named as the Karen Fraser Woodland Trail, to honor the woman who spent 44 years of her life in public service to the community.

Karen was the first woman to serve on the Lacey Planning Commission, the first woman to serve on the Lacey City Council, and the first woman to serve as mayor of the City of Lacey.  When she retired recently, the city looked for ways to honor her for her dedication to Lacey and the community.  The idea was advanced to name a city park after her.  Lacey already has three parks named after city mayors.

But, the City of Olympia was also looking at ways of honoring her.  Working together, both Lacey and Olympia decided that naming the Woodland Trail after her was the most appropriate way of doing so.   After all, the trail runs from Lacey and ends at the State Capitol campus; where Fraser spent two decades working as a state representative and later a state senator.  Between her time as Lacey mayor and the state legislature, she also served as Thurston County Commissioner.

June 2, was selected because it’s also National Trails Day.

The dedication will be held at the HUB.  That’s where the Chehalis Western Trail and the Woodland Trail meet.  Ceremonies will start at 10 a.m.  Those wishing to do so can also help with a work party following the event to help clean and restore parts of the trail.

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