When asked why they live here, Tri-Citians rank the area's recreational opportunities and natural beauty among their top reasons.
Those factors also often attract new businesses, said Mike Lilga, a member of the nonprofit Ridges to Rivers Open Space Network, during a meeting with the Tri-City Herald's editorial board earlier this week.
During the past four years, members of the network, other nonprofits and representatives of five cities and two counties have developed a plan they hope will help preserve and enhance the area's natural attractions.
The plan, called the Vision Plan for Open Space Conservation and Trail Connectivity in the Mid-Columbia Region, is being unveiled publicly today.
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As part of the unveiling, members of the Ridges to Rivers Network will be guiding public officials up a trail that leads to the top of Badger Mountain starting at 11 a.m. today from the trailhead park in south Richland.
Along the way, they will talk about the plan, said Ridges to Rivers member Scott Woodward. When the group reaches the summit, they will get a bird's-eye view of the area on which the vision plan focuses.
"What we're trying to do is provide a vision of the Tri-Cities of how we can use the land to maximize the benefit," said Ridges to Rivers member Tom Page.
Woodward said open spaces offer economic, recreational, health and educational benefits.
He said a steering committee comprised of members of the network, other nonprofits and staff members from each of the Tri-Cities, West Richland, Benton City, Benton County and Franklin County have worked on the plan for four years.
They have held public meetings and solicited public input through an online and hard-copy questionnaire. About 300 people took part in the process.
The steering committee also got advice from a jurisdictional council consisting of public officials from the same jurisdictions.
The result is a list of 50 recommendations on how to preserve and enhance open space in the Mid-Columbia.
For example, the plan recommends how to connect existing trails and develop new ones. It recommends developing a regional definition of open space and offers examples of how developers could incorporate open space into their projects.
Woodward, Lilga and Page stressed the result is a vision plan, not a regulatory one.
It does not address how the vision is to be incorporated into each jurisdiction's comprehensive plan, Woodward said. It also does not evaluate the implementation costs.
"It's up to each jurisdiction to evaluate which recommendation is appropriate," he said.
Lilga said the plan doesn't advocate property takings, but does suggest new planning tools that could be used to incorporate open space into developments.
Network members plan to roll out the plan to the business community at the end of March by bringing in an expert on sustainable communities and planning.
Network members also will make presentations to city councils and county commissions and ask local governments to accept the vision plan as a planning tool.
The network members hope the jurisdictional council will continue to exist and that the vision plan will be updated every five years.
Lilga said he envisions a group of dedicated volunteers working to keep the plan in the public eye. He compared that to what the Tapteal Greenway Association has done to preserve open spaces. He also acknowledged that for the regional plan to succeed, it needs to be embraced by the region.
"There's no way this is going to happen without broad community support," Lilga said. "It really needs to be accepted in all levels in our community."
To view a copy, visit the Ridges to Rivers Open Space Network's Web site at rrosn.org.