Maureen McCarry receives city’s top environmental award

March 22, 2011

By Warren Kagarise

Maureen McCarry smiles March 21 as her husband Tom Knollmann and the City Hall audience applaud her for receiving the Ruth Kees Environmental Award. By Greg Farrar

The latest recipient of the top environmental honor in Issaquah acted as a guiding force — in public and behind the scenes — in the long-running effort to shape neighborhoods and preserve undeveloped land.

Leaders elevated Maureen McCarry into the pantheon alongside other important conservation activists, and bestowed the Ruth Kees Environmental Award for a Sustainable Community on the former councilwoman at a City Hall ceremony March 21.

Mayor Ava Frisinger cited the countless hours McCarry contributed to forge agreements outlining construction in the Issaquah Highlands and Talus, preserve forested Park Pointe near Issaquah High School and strengthen tree-protection rules.

The mayor and Council President John Traeger selected McCarry for the honor after receiving numerous nominations for the former councilwoman, a Squak Mountain resident.

“We look for someone who, over a significant period of time, has demonstrated a very strong commitment to environmental protection and preservation,” Frisinger said.

In the late 1990s, as builders ratcheted up a housing construction boom, McCarry led the Major Development and Regional Affairs Committee and served on the early committee assigned to forge agreements for the highlands and Talus.

“That work was done at a time when it was a key turning point for Issaquah, because we were faced with planning for rapid urban growth,” Frisinger said.

McCarry listed the accomplishments as proud achievements as a councilwoman, as well as leading the city to adopt stronger tree rules.

Frisinger and others also spotlighted McCarry for rallying residents to halt proposed housing construction on the so-called Issaquah 69 parcel on Squak Mountain. The effort led to the preservation of forested land adjacent to Squak Mountain State Park.

Former Councilman David Kappler, a past Kees honoree, said although McCarry spearheaded many issues as a councilwoman, conservation ranked as a top priority at all times.

“Maureen is super-bright, and sometimes would be ahead of me, and I’d have to play catch up,” he said. “She’s definitely good at looking with things with a different set of eyes, which is something that’s needed.”

‘Weighing all angles’

McCarry resigned in December as symptoms from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease, progressed. In a last act as a councilwoman, before a tearful sendoff from council colleagues, she seconded a motion to adopt a Park Pointe agreement.

Despite the health-related setback, she continues to communicate ideas to former council colleagues.

(The council selected attorney Stacy Goodman to serve in McCarry’s former seat March 7.)

Ken Konigsmark, another past honoree for efforts to create the greenway, praised McCarry as a thoughtful and determined advocate for conservation.

“I think she was very careful in thoroughly weighing all angles, but from perspective at least, she did so with a strong environmental and conservation bent that served the city, because that reflects the attitudes of the vast majority of the citizens in the community,” he said.

The then-councilwoman also earned points from local environmentalists for opposing the Southeast Bypass, a proposed roadway along forested Tiger Mountain. The council pulled the plug on the project in March 2008.

“I was adamantly opposed to that. I still think it would be absolutely insane to consider such a thing,” Konigsmark said. “Thankfully, she and the others who opposed it were on the council and stopped that thing.”

McCarry, a retired Harborview Medical Center executive, served on the council from 1998 to 2009, and again from 2005 until December. The tenure included a stint in the top spot, council president, through 2009.

Her work in public service also included serving on the Planning Policy Commission in the mid-1990s.

‘Pure tenaciousness’

“I didn’t always agree with her, but I could understand she was raising good points and making things better by doing that,” Kappler said.

Connie Marsh, a citizen activist and Issaquah Environmental Council member, said McCarry presented a compelling reason for a decision, even if Marsh disagreed.

“She was tireless and would on go far beyond many people’s capacity to tolerate in order to get what she perceived to be the correct thing for the public done,” Marsh said. “In that particular capacity, she was exemplary. For pure tenaciousness, I give her a 10.”

McCarry is the 10th person to receive the honor named for the late environmentalist. Kees received the inaugural award in 2003. The city honored the most recent recipient, late Mountains to Sound Greenway cofounder Ted Thomsen, last July.

The prize included a sculpture from local artist Deby Harvey and $500 — money from a long-term endowment established as part of Kees’ estate.

Kees served as a muse for Harvey as part of the annual artEAST Collective Memory Project. The program uses art to convey the biographies of notable community members.

McCarry plans to match the $500 prize for the Issaquah Environmental Council to plant trees and yank invasive plants.

“There are many champions of the environment that will use these resources wisely to protect the beauty of Issaquah,” McCarry wrote in response to emailed questions.

Other recipients said the honor serves as a motivational tool, especially as the debate drags — sometimes for years — before a conservation decision is reached.

“I knew Ruth, and she just never gave up until her dying day,” Konigsmark said.

Kees died at age 84 in May 2009, days after the city honored Issaquah Alps Trails Club pioneer Harvey Manning.

“You get the award and you think about what it’s about and how Ruth did that for so long, and then it sort of re-encourages you and reinvigorates you to sustain the battle,” Konigsmark added.

Get involved

Help city and state leaders dedicate the Ruth Kees Grove, and commemorate Arbor Day and the 20th anniversary of the state Department of Natural Resource Urban Forestry Program, at Squak Valley Park South.

Join officials to plant 10 native conifers to honor the 10 recipients of the Ruth Kees Environmental Award for a Sustainable Community. The city has invited past Ruth Kees Environmental Award recipients to the celebration.

Plans also call for a trail, decorative rock features and a small patio or courtyard featuring recipients’ names engraved on paver stones.

The dedication starts at 10 a.m. April 16. Attendees should park in the lot at Squak Valley Park South, 10319 Issaquah-Hobart Road S.E., and follow the markers to the ceremony site.

Participants should bring gloves and prepare for the weather if they intend to participate in the planting. Call 837-3322 for more information.


Past Ruth Kees Environmental Award recipients received the honor for efforts to establish the Mountains to Sound Greenway, blaze trails in the Issaquah Alps and protect Issaquah waterways.

2003: Ruth Kees — The environmental activist and award namesake fought for decades to protect Issaquah Creek, Tiger Mountain and the Lower Issaquah Valley Aquifer.

2004: Joanna Buehler and Janet Wall — Buehler founded Save Lake Sammamish, a nonprofit organization set up to protect and raise awareness about the lake and surrounding watershed. Wall, a city River & Streams Board member, helped improve water quality, and fish and wildlife habitat, in the lake and watershed.

2005: Chrys Bertolotto — Bertolotto, a former city Resource Conservation Office employee, established the Issaquah Stream Team and marshaled dollars to build the Pickering Farm Garden.

2006: David Kappler — The then-councilman advocated for expanded public trails and open space preservation as a public official and as a longtime Issaquah Alps Trails Club member.

2007: Ken Konigsmark — Konigsmark, often the go-to guy when the city needs a strong environmental voice on a task force, shaped land-use policies and helped establish the greenway.

2008: William Longwell Jr. — The longtime Issaquah Alps Trails Club member established trails on Squak and Tiger mountains, and helped preserve west Tiger Mountain for public recreation. (posthumous award)

2009: Harvey Manning — The lifelong mountaineer coined the phrase “Issaquah Alps” for Cougar, Tiger and Squak mountains, but he also pushed to preserve untold acres in the Cascade Mountains. (posthumous award)

2010: Ted Thomsen — Described as “the unsung hero” behind the greenway, Thomsen helped form the 101-mile greenbelt from Seattle to Central Washington. (posthumous award)

2011: Maureen McCarry

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or Comment at

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2 Responses to “Maureen McCarry receives city’s top environmental award”

  1. City offers another honor to former councilwoman : The Issaquah Press – News, Sports, Classifieds in Issaquah, WA on March 23rd, 2011 8:26 am

    […] mayor announced the proclamation Monday after McCarry received the top environmental honor in Issaquah, the Ruth Kees Environmental Award for a Sustainable […]

  2. City celebrates Arbor Day at Ruth Kees Grove planting : The Issaquah Press – News, Sports, Classifieds in Issaquah, WA on April 20th, 2011 4:09 pm

    […] Councilwoman Maureen McCarry received the most recent Ruth Kees award in a ceremony last […]

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