Greenway leader receives top environmental honor

July 6, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 7:50 p.m. July 6, 2010

Mountains to Sound Greenway pioneer Ted Thomsen — “the unsung hero” behind the 101-mile greenbelt — received the highest environmental honor in Issaquah on Tuesday night.

The late Thomsen received the Ruth Kees Award for a Sustainable Community — the prize named for late environmentalist, a tireless advocate for open space preservation. The city selected Thomsen for the yearslong effort to establish a billboard-free greenbelt from Seattle to Central Washington along Interstate 90.

Cynthia Welti, Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust executive director, nominated Thomsen for the honor.

“He was essential to bringing the greenway vision to fruition,” she recalled in the nomination. “Ted is the unsung hero of the launch of this tremendous coalition effort.”

Ted Thomsen, the 2010 Ruth Kees Award for a Sustainable Community honoree, relaxes during the 10th Anniversary Mountains to Sound March in 2000. Contributed

Thomsen — alongside past Ruth Kees Award recipients Harvey Manning, Ken Konigsmark, former Councilman David Kappler and many other environmentalists — helped form the greenway.

Thomsen, a Bellevue resident and a former attorney, died in September at age 85.

“Dad’s in good company,” son Brogan Thomsen, a Seattle resident, said before the Tuesday ceremony.

The elder Thomsen handled Boeing contracts for much of his career as a partner at Seattle law firm Perkins Coie. Thomsen, a longtime hiker and outdoorsmen, became involved in the Issaquah Alps Trails Club after he retired from Perkins Coie in 1989.

In 1990, Thomsen and other greenway founders marched from Snoqualmie Pass to Seattle to bring attention to the corridor.

During the march, the group camped on a field in Bellevue’s Newport Shores neighborhood, Brogan Thomsen recalled. But nobody had asked the groundskeepers to turn off the sprinklers — so the marchers received a soggy wake-up call in the pre-dawn darkness.

Thomsen also helped map Rattlesnake Mountain; the effort resulted in the 11-mile Rattlesnake Mountain Trail between Snoqualmie Point and Rattlesnake Lake.

The project earned Thomsen a colorful nickname from Manning, the mountaineer behind the term “Issaquah Alps” to describe Cougar, Tiger and Squak mountains.

“Dad became known as the Rattlesnake Ranger,” Brogan Thomsen said.

The family plans to erect a bench in the elder Thomsen’s memory at the Rattlesnake Mountain Trailhead.

The family — Ted, wife Gretchen and four sons — hiked, hunted, fished and skied throughout the Pacific Northwest. Thomsen also instilled a commitment to volunteerism in the next generation.

Brogan Thomsen, a longtime activist for the blind and environmental causes, pitched in Monday to help clean up trash at Seattle’s Gas Works Park after the Fourth of July celebration.

The attention conferred upon the Ruth Kees Award honoree might surprise the humble Ted Thomsen. Brogan Thomsen described his late father as a curious man and a respectful legal opponent possessed by a strong work ethic and a dry sense of humor.

Ted Thomsen traveled the globe as a Boeing attorney, Brogan Thomsen said, and the experience helped him appreciate the environment unique to the Pacific Northwest.

The family also counted Lake Washington savior Jim Ellis as a neighbor. Ellis led the push to clean up the polluted lake and spearheaded other efforts to expand mass transit and open space protections. Brogan Thomsen said Ellis helped the Thomsens realize the impact of a single person in a campaign for change.

Named for Ruth Kees —a teacher, mentor and role model for the Issaquah environmental community — the city bestows the annual honor to people responsible for preserving natural resources and promoting a sustainable city. Kees died last May.

Mayor Ava Frisinger said Thomsen exhibited the qualities inherent to Kees and other environmental leaders.

“Ted had such a warm and engaging personality that people were drawn to helping him — and volunteering for his cause,” Frisinger said in prepared remarks. “His vision of the greenway was truly infectious.”

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