Saving the Benton County 'sagebrush oasis'

Sara Schilling, Tri-City HeraldFebruary 15, 2014 

Mountain Bike Rider

Bob Brawdy | bbrawdy@tricityherald.com Ron Horn, 44, of Richland, makes tracks in the dirt Thursday morning on the mountain bike trails south of Kennewick behind the Washington State Patrol building on South Bofer Canyon Road. Today might be another good day for riding. The forecast calls for sunny skies, daytime high temperatures in the mid-70s and southwest winds from 10 to 20 mph. See Weather, Page A12.

HERALD/BOB BRAWDY

A local cyclist and hiker who helped lead a volunteer effort to clean up open space south of Kennewick marred by illegally dumped trash has his sights set on a new challenge -- conserving 322 acres that are part of a "sagebrush oasis" filled with wildlife and popular among outdoor enthusiasts.

The land near the Washington State Patrol office off Bofer Canyon Road is for sale, listed at $385,000.

It "could potentially make an ideal 'cornerstone' property for future open space conservation and preservation activities, with close access from town," Al Potter of Kennewick recently wrote in a letter to local elected officials.

An out-of-state family trust owns the property, which is in Benton County south of the Kennewick city limits, along with about 200 adjacent acres that are part of the city's urban growth area.

Potter sees the availability of the 322 acres as a unique opportunity. "Many people in America have to drive a long way to reach 'open space,' if in fact any exists at all where they live," Potter wrote in his letter, which was sent to Benton County and Kennewick officials.

"In Kennewick we take it for granted because it is only a short drive. But much of the land is private property, and local access is only by the kindness of numerous local landowners who do not fence or post their land."

He said the "sagebrush oasis" is a "remnant of the vanishing 'shrub-steppe' landscape that historically covered large parts of Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon and Idaho," and contains wildlife ranging from coyotes and cottontail rabbits to hawks, owls and meadowlarks.

Potter hopes officials will support the concept of acquiring the land so it can remain open space available for wildlife and recreation, and consider committing resources or applying for a state grant that could help pay for its purchase.

He plans to visit Benton County commissioners and the Kennewick City Council soon to talk about the land, he told the Herald.

One idea that's in the works locally could provide a revenue stream for that kind of purchase. A group of local advocates is working on a conservation financing proposal.

The concept that's been discussed is a property tax increase -- costing the average household $11 a year -- to raise money for projects from buying land for parks to preserving farmland and wildlife habitat. The group is expected to bring its proposal to Benton County commissioners in the spring, with a request that it be placed on the fall ballot.

Scott Woodward, president of Tapteal Greenway and Ridges to Rivers Open Space Network, is part of the group working on the proposal.

He said the availability of the 322 acres shows why "having a funding source in place, ready to take care of opportunities when they do arise, is a good idea."

Potter and some other local cyclists led a charge to clean up garbage dumped in the hills south of Kennewick and curb the practice of illegal dumping in the area.

The Herald featured their efforts in a front page story in late 2012 and multiple follow-up reports.

More than 30 tons of garbage and about 600 tires were removed.

-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; sschilling@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald

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