A four-mile loop through woods, wetlands, beaver ponds, and sandstone ridges, Stimpson Family Nature Reserve off Lake Louise Road is a popular hiking destination vital to the Lake Whatcom watershed.
“There are people that go there virtually every day,” says Rand Jack, a founding board member of Whatcom Land Trust. Jack coordinated the land’s donation by the Stimpson family, whose legacy in Bellingham spans three generations.
In 1914, the first Stimpsons in Bellingham were physician Edward W. Stimpson, his wife, Edith, and children from his previous marriage. The eldest, Edward K. Stimpson, married Catharine C. “Kitty” Watts —whose father Arthur Watts moved to Bellingham in 1905, founded a real estate business, and funded Whatcom Falls Park’s creation.
Edward K. and Kitty Stimpson married in 1933, continued their fathers’ businesses, and became historic Bellingham community leaders. Their seven children, Edward, Catharine, Mary, Susan, Jane, Caroline and John made their own ways in the world, eventually establishing Stimpson Nature Reserve in 2000.
Its beauty, magic and environmental richness is one of many gifts from the family to Bellingham’s community, Jack says.
Edward K. and Kitty Stimpson
As lifelong Bellingham residents, the second-generation Stimpsons made prominent philanthropic contributions locally.
Edward K. Stimpson was born in 1906 and graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1933. A public health advocate, he served on the boards of the American Red Cross, the Board of Health, and St. Luke’s Hospital, which named a wing in his honor.
In addition to medicine, Edward K. championed civil defense and the United Nations after serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He was a board member of organizations such as the YMCA and United Good Neighbors.
Born in 1907, Kitty Stimpson started her career in teaching and real estate. After her husband’s death in 1967, she served on the boards of numerous local organizations in education, health, city planning, politics, and arts. These included Whatcom Community College, United Way, City Club, Women’s Political Caucus, and Allied Arts, among many others.
“She was this sort of a grand lady of old-fashioned Bellingham. She lived in a beautiful house on Forest Street,” says Jack, who knew Kitty Stimpson. “And she was very gracious.”
Kitty Stimpson often hosted friends and civic leaders at her historic colonial-style home, built in 1916. President Jimmy Carter appointed Kitty Stimpson to the National Council on Educational Research in 1977, honoring decades of outstanding public service.
Conserving the Stimpson Reserve
On Kitty Stimpson’s passing in 1998, her children reconvened in Bellingham to discuss the forest their family had owned for generations.
“It had really been this playground of the seven Stimpson siblings,” says Jack. “They had grown up in the woods there: running in the woods, playing in the woods, hiking, games in the woods…”
The family purchased this property, formerly called Manning’s Camp, from the Upright Shingle Company in the early 1900s. The siblings had different ideas for its future.
“The siblings have led very different lives,” says Jack. “One of them is the American delegate to the International Council on Civil Aviation with the rank of Ambassador, two are university professors, two are community activists, one is a high school teacher, and one managed a box store.”
These were Edward Stimpson, Catharine R. Stimpson, Mary Rivkin, Susan Trimingham, Jane Bremner, Caroline Macdonald, and John Stimpson, respectively.
After negotiations, the siblings donated 116 acres to Whatcom Land Trust. The Land Trust sold conservation and recreational use easements to Whatcom County, ensuring the land’s protection and public accessibility.
“We had our grand opening and people were excited to be out and walk the trails,” says Jack. “Russ Pfeiffer-Hoyt, the master trail builder, built a trail that gives you a marvelous experience of the property.”
Whatcom Land Trust acquired 20 more acres from the family in 2015, plus combined hundreds from the DNR, Trillium Corporation, Whatcom County, and Western Washington University. The 404 total acres host remarkable biodiversity, including 400-year-old Douglas firs and four woodpecker species.
Gifts Keep Giving
Today, the Stimpsons’ influence endures throughout Bellingham.
“We’ve done bigger projects, more spectacular projects, but there’s something about the Stimpson Family Nature Reserve,” says Jack. “The scale, the location, the complex ecological patterns, the way the trail is constructed…we’re constantly getting remarks from people about how much they loved it.”
Whatcom Community College’s “Friends of Kitty” honor Kitty Stimpson’s memory with the Catharine C. (Kitty) Stimpson Scholarship awarded to older students advancing their careers. Local property manager Robert Hall owns and preserves her Forest Street house, among other historic buildings. Big Rock Garden Park’s “Zoe Garden Wall” sculpture was dedicated shortly before her passing.
In these regards, the community gives back to a family whose generosity helped shape it.
“I think it’s important to remember how things happened and where they came from, so they will encourage other people to civic acts of generosity,” says Jack. “They did something that will presumably last forever—as long as we can think about forever—and it’s enjoyed every day.”