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KNKX Connects showcases people and places around Puget Sound. Through audio, photography, music and journalism — discover a new connection with Bremerton.

A teacher, her student and Bremerton’s Illahee Preserve

A plaque on the side of a rock at the Illahee Preserve, reading "dedicated to Audrey Boyer, teacher and Frank Chopp, her student"
Emil Moffatt
A plaque greets visitors at the entrance of the Illahee Preserve in Bremerton, Washington.

Not far from Washington state Route 303 in East Bremerton stands several hundred acres of forest land with five miles of hiking trails winding through it. After just a few steps into the forest, you’re enveloped in nature.

Efforts by residents of Bremerton to keep this forest and the wildlife and vegetation it supports intact, started decades ago and eventually paid off.

Near the entrance to the park is a plaque that reads the “Illahee Preserve, dedicated to Audrey Boyer, teacher and Frank Chopp, her student.” Chopp, the longtime state representative, recently spoke to KNKX about his childhood in Bremerton.

“So in East Bremerton, I grew up on Petersville Road,” Chopp said. “My dad called it ‘poverty slope.’ My dad was a shipyard electrician. My mom was a school cafeteria worker. My dad and mom bought a surplus Navy yard house after World War II, for $300 and moved it to a site, and the site had a great view of the Olympic Mountains.”

Bremerton is known for those sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains, it’s also known for hiking trails, including the Illahee Preserve. But as Chopp recalled, this sanctuary in the middle of the city came close to being destroyed.

A wooden sign reading "Illahee Preserve" stands near the entrance of the park.
Emil Moffatt
Efforts to save the Illahee Preserve began in the 1970s and paid off decades later, when the land was purchased from the state Department of Natural Resources.

“It was owned by the Department of Natural Resources. So being in the legislature, I heard about it. In fact, my fourth grade teacher, Audrey Boyer said, ‘Frank, can you save this for us?’ I said, ‘okay, yeah,’ so we put something in the capital budget through the Trust Land Transfer program, voilá, that land is now saved for the Illahee Land Trust,” Chopp said.

“Prior to that time, DNR was going to sell it off and log it for a bunch more housing. And we said ‘no, no, no, we want to save it.’ I wanted to save it because we used to call it the ‘lost continent’, you'd go in there and it was a lot of land, it was a great place to grow up, running around there and bicycling through there. But now it's owned by the community as the Illahee Land Trust. And it's just an example of how you can make these connections for the benefit of all.”

Chopp recently announced he would not seek re-election to the state legislature after 30 years. He’s also the longest serving house speaker in Washington history.

Efforts to save the Illahee Preserve included Kitsap County and many members of the community and institutions such as the Rotary Club of East Bremerton, which maintains a picnic shelter at the entrance of the park.

KNKX Connects is an ongoing series showcasing the people and places of our diverse and vibrant region. Your support helps KNKX connect listeners throughout Western Washington, presenting a much deeper look at the place we call home. Donate to this vital community service today.

Emil Moffatt joined KNKX in October 2022 as All Things Considered host/reporter. He came to the Puget Sound area from Atlanta where he covered the state legislature, the 2021 World Series and most recently, business and technology as a reporter for WABE. Contact him at