Mid-Columbia open space, trails plan gets national attention

Annette Cary, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 23, 2014 

Three years after a citizen-created plan to save the Mid-Columbia's diminishing open space and develop its trails was released, much work remains to be done.

"Things go away daily around here," said Scott Woodward, president of the Ridges to Rivers Open Space Network.

But 10 of the 26 open space and trails recommendations in the network's open space vision plan are under discussion or being implemented. And nine of the 24 general recommendations in the plan have been or are being implemented.

Other communities have taken note.

The American Planning Association is giving the group's plan its 2014 National Planning Excellence Award for a Grassroots Initiative, focusing attention on the Mid-Columbia, Woodward announced Thursday.

"What national planners will learn about us that we value our sense of place," Woodward said. "People who have lived elsewhere know that people in the Mid-Columbia are blessed with the rivers and ridges that surround us.

"Now the plan needs to be recognized for its excellence and value by our local planners and jurisdictions that represent the very same constituents who worked so hard to create it," he said.

Preserving open space creates property value, with property near park land more valuable, for example, Woodward said. It can provide an edge in the competition to recruit corporations as they look for communities where their employees will want to live. Open spaces are particularly valuable for attracting young entrepreneurs.

"Most importantly our place, the ridges and rivers, provide an eternal opportunity for good health and piece of mind," he said.

The network's plan provides the tools for open space and trails planning across city and county boundaries within the Mid-Columbia Basin.

It was created by a working group of citizens, non-profit organizations and city and county staff members, with input from public workshops and meetings with business and government organizations. It does not bind local governments, but provides recommendations.

Now Woodward's goal is to win another award from the American Planning Association -- for implementing the plan.

Some of the plan is a reality.

The Tapteal Water Trail has been created, encompassing 30 miles through the lower Yakima River with signs and information about where nonmotorized watercraft, such as kayaks, can enter and get off the river, from Benton City to Bateman Island. Information is available at tapteal.org.

In addition, work has been done to create trail easements for the Tapteal Trail from Bateman Island to Horn Rapids Park and the Tapteal Greenway Association has budgeted $12,000 to work on the trail.

Some work has been done to develop regulations about hillside development, which could set standards to preserve the view of the ridge lines for the community without penalizing owners. The Richland Planning Commission has put together a proposal and Kennewick is considering developing regulations, Woodward said.

But the key to implementing steps in the plan may be in a proposal to collect property tax specifically to pay for conservation projects, he said. It could head to Benton County voters this fall. The tax would take pressure off local governments to find money for the projects, he said.

A survey conducted for Benton County commissioners found majority support for a measure that would cost $11 a year for the average household and bring in $950,000 annually.

The money could be used to pay for acquiring land for parks and open space, preserve farmland, conserve wildlife habitat or create recreational opportunities.

-- Annette Cary: 582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews

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