Olson Family: Homestead to Conservation Preserve

February 9, 2024

By Heidi Lasher, Conservancy Volunteer

In October 2023, the Olson Family turned their 531-acre homestead into a conservation preserve and wildlife sanctuary. The Olson Family Conservation Preserve, as it will be known, will be owned and managed by the Palouse Land Trust, with Inland Northwest Land Conservancy acting as the land’s guarantor and the guardian of the Olsons’ wishes.

The property, a mix of knolls, streams, forests and recovering Palouse grasslands near Deary, Idaho has been a place to live, a source of income, and a sanctuary for the Olson family since 1900. When it came time to decide what to do with the land, three generations of Olsons gathered around the campfire on a special place on the land and asked what should become of their land. “We tried to think beyond our immediate situation,” explained Keith Olson, Andrew Olson’s grandson. “The concept of a conservation preserve was what we felt would be the best way to support my grandparents’ legacy and be a benefit to other people.”

Rhonda Olson, Keith’s wife agreed. “It was easy to sit in that space with three generations and feel the support of extended family for this concept. That’s what got us looking ahead. Keith’s folks gave the land to their five children. They really wanted to keep the land together. We feel like we’re honoring their vision.”

Olson Family Conservation Preserve

The Olsons reached out to the Palouse Land Trust to receive the generous gift of land, and the Palouse Land Trust reached out to your Conservancy to provide legally binding oversight through a conservation agreement. “We needed to work with like-minded entities in terms of conservation and perpetuity, with the ability and wherewithal to make it happen,” said Keith. “These two entities made it a perfect fit.”

The concept of a conservation preserve
was what we felt would be the best way
to support my grandparents’ legacy and
be a benefit to other people

Keith Olson

The conservation preserve will be divided into two zones. The larger zone, comprising almost two-thirds of the land, will prioritize wildlife habitat including a half-mile section of Big Bear Creek, which provides spawning habitat for native steelhead. The smaller zone will support a network of walking trails for limited public access, including research and guided field trips.

“We have consciously set this up as Olson Family Conservation Preserve, Big Bear Creek rather thana park,” explained Rhonda. “There’s nothing wrong with parks, but our idea here is to focus on nature and all that nature can provide in terms of renewal and quiet. We have intentionally tried to create an environment where the animals can live naturally. We can’t even imagine what things might be like 50 to 100 years from now,” added Keith. “So, with the conservation easement, we’ve tried to provide guardrails that will keep this focus in mind and still allow flexibility to adapt to environmental changes that we can’t imagine.”

When asked what they’d like people to feel when they encounter the land, both Keith and Rhonda
grew pensive. “It would be wonderful if children came and everyone had to leave their cell phones on the bus,” imagined Keith. “They would not be allowed to say one word and be very quiet and let nature
speak to them.