James R. Ellis: Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust Founding President 1921 – 2019

It is with a heavy heart that we share the news that Jim Ellis died on October 22nd at the age of 98, at his home, surrounded by his family.

Jim dedicated much of his life to making Seattle and the surrounding area a better place to live. He was a visionary community leader, a generous philanthropist, and a trusted friend to many. He was the Founding President of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.

In the Greenway, we thank Jim for the conservation of many iconic places such as Rattlesnake Mountain, Snoqualmie Point Park, the Coal Mines Trail in Cle Elum, and vast wilderness reaches in the Cascades.

Jim recognized something unique and worth saving in the I-90 corridor east of Seattle, and he envisioned the creation of a Greenway to protect it  – 100 miles of dramatic scenery, historic sites, working forests and farms, wildlife habitat, and hiking trails, conserved for future generations. Jim served as President of the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust from 1991-2001 and remained on the Board of Directors for 28 years. He built a unique board that served as a diverse, bipartisan, inclusive coalition to work collaboratively toward shared conservation goals, accomplishing more together than any organization or individual could do alone.

Jim’s tenure as Greenway Trust President resulted in major accomplishments that changed the shape of our region, including: the creation of a Greenway concept plan that governed the work of this broad coalition; successful public purchase or exchange of more than 130,000 acres of farms, forests, parks, river corridors, and lake shores; designation of this section of Interstate 90 as the first National Scenic Byway on an interstate highway; development of the award-winning Biosolids Forestry Program to recycle waste, promote tree growth, purchase public forest lands, and generate revenue for public agencies in King County; inauguration of an outdoor education program for schools and a volunteer stewardship program to restore salmon habitat and build and maintain trails across the Greenway.

Throughout our region, we thank Jim for so much more.

Jim Ellis served as a citizen activist and community leader for more than half a century. Jim’s passion for the public good and his boundless energy and ideas made our communities better on a scale measured in public places and institutions that are now fundamental to our Northwest way of life.  Parks, farms, a world class convention center, a clean Lake Washington — Jim inspired citizens to believe that we could make things better, then mobilized us to fight for and build them.

In the 1950s, Jim was a young bond attorney who called for a cleanup of polluted Lake Washington and the creation of a metropolitan wastewater treatment agency. King County Metro became the regional agency for clean water, waste management, public transit, creation of parks, and preservation of farmlands. Jim led proposals to voters in the 1960s to invest in new parks, roads, and Seattle’s former stadium, the Kingdome. In the 1970s, Jim worked to preserve farmland, resulting in the King County Farmlands Preservation Program — first of its kind in the nation. In the 1980s, Jim chaired expansion efforts of the Washington State Convention and Trade Center in Seattle.

And in the 1990s, at age 68, Jim helped create and lead the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust. He infused the organization and its enduring family of partnerships with grace, good humor, and a healthy dose of pragmatism. Thanks to Jim’s leadership and vision, the Greenway now stands as a national model for collaborative conservation. One of Jim’s guiding concepts in founding the Greenway was that, to be recognized as truly special, this place needed a name. In his final year, Jim got to see this come to ultimate fruition as the Mountains to Sound Greenway was designated as a National Heritage Area.

Jim leaves a magnificent legacy in our region. We have been blessed to learn from Jim, to follow in his footsteps, and now to carry on in his honor. Jim leaves a model for all of us to look to, and his gifts will keep on giving for generations to come.

More information about the life and legacy of Jim can be found in the Seattle Times and KIRO7. 

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