Standing on the crest of Wallowa Lake’s East Moraine, it’s remarkable to think that this geologic wonder has endured since the last ice age, some 300,000 years ago. Few places in Oregon provide such an extraordinary vista, where one can look back in time and imagine the past while seeing the present. Now, thanks to Bruce and Mary Lou Ham and their family, 52 acres of this landscape are forever protected so that a future traveler might experience the same awe and wonder.
The age and relatively pristine and exposed nature of the moraines surrounding Wallowa Lake make them an incredible resource, providing rare insight into the geologic record. It is in reality not one moraine (from the 18th century French term morena meaning “mound of earth”) but multiple moraines created by glaciers advancing and retreating over several thousands of years. The oldest moraine is approximately 300,000 years old and the youngest is 17,000 years old.
Put your hand on one of the enormous, ancient boulders dotting the East Moraine and you are touching a stone that was deposited by the most recent glacier. These ancient guardians, called erratics, have stood watch over Wallowa Lake since long before the pyramids were built or the Roman Empire flourished. Once stewarded by the Nez Perce, today these prehistoric boulders are visited by people from all over the world.
“It is our wish that this land remains open and undeveloped forever. We hope that in 1,000 years your descendants and ours will enjoy the views we cherish now. It is also our hope that the mule deer of the Wallowa Mountains will retain a small but vital winter range for their long term survival and benefit, and that others will come to understand these benefits as well,” says landowner Bruce Ham.
Making their vision a reality, the Ham family donated a conservation easement on 52 acres of their East Moraine property. They have agreed to permanently extinguish any future development and subdivision rights and to manage the land in a manner that maintains and enhances the native grassland. The conservation easement extends from Wallowa Lake to the crest of the East Moraine, providing panoramic views of the Wallowa Mountains, Wallowa Valley, the Zumwalt Prairie and out to Hells Canyon. It is a favorite wintering spot for mule deer and glows with blooming arrowleaf balsamroot in the spring. It is now the Land Trust’s perpetual responsibility to ensure the terms of this conservation easement are met. The Hams will continue to own and manage the property, and pay property taxes as they always have.
“We are incredibly lucky that the East Moraine has been cared for by people who understand the value of this landscape – culturally, ecologically and economically. Wallowa Lake, the moraines and the mountains that surround them are central to our identity as a community and I applaud the Hams and others like them who are making a significant gift in protecting this landscape,” says Kathleen Ackley, Wallowa Land Trust’s executive director.
Wallowa Land Trust will continue to work with the Ham family and other East Moraine landowners on a publicly accessible trail along the crest of the moraine. This property is part of Wallowa Land Trust’s larger Wallowa Lake Moraines protection effort. The Wallowa Lake Moraines have long been a conservation priority for county residents, public officials and visitors, not to mention the Land Trust and the Wallowa Lake Moraines Partnership. We will continue our efforts with numerous other landowners on the East Moraine to create a seamlessly protected and publicly accessible landscape.