Given to the state of Washington as a gift from Otto and William Studhalter, the Tilton River State Park plaque is like a gift tag, a “To” and “From.”
But, what is the gift of land? What does it mean when someone donates a piece of land? Dirt? Trees? Perhaps land is handed over as a gift of a thing precious, rich with value and one that had provided life? So perhaps that was what William and Otto Studhalter were gifting to the state of Washington when they donated 110 acres along the Tilton River in Lewis County, a gift of valuable land to be preserved and appreciated.
Otto and William’s parents, Louis and Louise Studhalter, were both European immigrants who arrived in America by different paths. Louis was from Switzerland. Louise was from Germany and had come by ship with a girlfriend of hers, following Louise’s brother who settled in Orting. After marrying in Tacoma, Louis and Louise began a family and moved south to Bremer in Lewis County along with their nine children, farm animals and belongings by train car to Morton. From there, in Pacific Northwest March weather, they reloaded the dog, cows, chickens, furniture and everyone into wagons with the help of eight farmers who drove them and the wagons nine miles west to Bremer.
Otto and William were one of two sets of twins among their parent’s ten children. The tenth and youngest was born in Bremer. The Studhalters hauled water from the creek. They had an orchard, a garden, and a root cellar. Their chickens laid eggs, and their cows made milk for butter. The kids worked too, picking grape roots, foxglove leaves and cascara bark for medicines. Some of the family worked in sawmills and logged, Otto and William included. For them, land provided food and resources.
At 95-years-old, Otto donated the Tilton River property, a place where he let people go down and fish at “Dodge Hole.” Today, William and Otto’s land is Washington State Park land. Between Bremer and Milton, along highway 508 at a rather obscure turnout, the plaque marks the trail head. A thin trail wanders down from the road to the Tilton River. With the walk taking about 10 minutes and gently meandering through the woods, it is very peaceful and rewarding at the end. On the day I saw it, a multigenerational family group was fishing together, the sun shone warmly and the river was clear and clean.
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