Our Voice: Future of Reach should reflect unified vision

April 3, 2014 

The Tri-Cities is increasingly becoming known as a destination for great outdoor recreation.

We are lucky to have had visionaries in our community who have fought for years for public access to public lands, trails and other recreation areas. We could do even better with a unified front.

The Friends of Badger Mountain launched its effort to preserve that hill and develop hiking trails in 2003. The Badger hike is now one of the most popular activities in town.

Then a group with a broader scope -- the Ridges to Rivers Open Space Network -- formed in 2007 to develop a vision for an expansive web of trails throughout the region.

So it is expected that when plans are being made for public lands, these groups will be quick to throw their hats in the ring.

Ridges to Rivers has long been vocal about its interest in the fate of cleaned lands at the Hanford site as they are transitioned out of Department of Energy control. Most recently it sent a letter to Sen. Patty Murray, pushing for the transfer of newly cleaned land to the Hanford Reach National Monument, putting it under the management of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Ridges to Rivers claims to speak for the community, and refers to its vision plan, which includes incorporating lands "abandoned by federal agencies on the Hanford Reservation" into the monument and to identify lands being prepped for surplus in order to secure them for future trails.

Those are great goals but there's a small problem. We think Ridges to Rivers is overstating its clout when it indicates it's the voice of the community, especially considering another Tri-City consortium has being working on a proposal for the land as well, requesting public input on how the community would like to see those specific lands used.

The Tri-City Development Council has taken the lead in making it clear to the federal government that the public wants access to that land. It has a proposal that includes hiking, biking and camping access. It also envisions an 80-mile trail stretching to the Vernita Bridge.

The two groups have similar goals but are not working together. And that's a problem.

Rivers to Ridges is advocating for Fish and Wildlife control of the land; TRIDEC has concerns because many public lands under that agency are already off limits to the public. Fish and Wildlife could prevent access and the potential for recreational uses at Hanford. TRIDEC worries that the land would remain out of reach if Fish and Wildlife has control.

About 70 percent of the almost 300-square-mile national monument remains closed to the public 14 years after the monument was formed, according to TRIDEC.

Fish and Wildlife has already made its move on the land at issue, requesting discussions to transition the land to the monument, which it already manages. That falls in line with Rivers to Ridges wishes, but in no way guarantees public access for recreation.

With two groups with similar end goals, it seems reasonable that they could form one voice. They both want the public to be able to use the land, and see trails in its future.

They seem to differ primarily over the issue of who should take on the management role of land. TRIDEC is wise to worry about just how much access the public will have, and has lobbied DOE to make sure the community's voice is heard. Ridges to Rivers is doing great work to create an amazing trail network and preserve public access in our region.

We just need to make sure folks in the other Washington hear a unified vision for the land we have waited so long to be returned to the people.

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