The Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve saw almost 49,000 visits the first four months of this year.
It's the most popular site in the Benton County parks inventory, and it's soon to be the subject of a public master planning process aimed at developing a document to help guide the preserve's future.
The county aims to have the plan done by next February, said Adam Fyall, sustainable development coordinator. He provided county commissioners Tuesday with a mid-year report on the county's park system.
Overall, the system is in good shape, Fyall said.
He noted the parks department has two full-time employees and a budget of about $379,000 for the 2013-14 biennium.
"We make it stretch a long way," Fyall told the Herald, adding that partnerships with groups such as Friends of Badger Mountain and the Tri-Cities Shooting Association, which runs the Rattlesnake Mountain Shooting Facility in Benton City, are critical.
The parks inventory includes nine sites -- Badger; the Rattlesnake facility; Horn Rapids, Two Rivers, Hover and Vista parks; Horse Heaven Cemetery; Horse Heaven Vista and the Wallula Gap Preserve.
Counting systems are set up at Badger and Two Rivers in Finley to track visitors; the Finley park drew about 4,070 visits from January through April. Fyall said he hopes to have a similar system set up at Horn Rapids Park this year.
The Tri-Cities Shooting Association tracks attendance at the Rattlesnake shooting facility. About 24,800 visits were made last year, said Mark Verwest, association president. He said attendance seems to be up this year.
The Badger Mountain preserve, which was established in 2005, has drawn a growing number of recreators.
Last year, about 187,800 visits were recorded. The preserve today has three improved trails, with another planned in the future on the lower south face, according to the parks report.
The county will work with the Spokane-based Studio Cascade consulting firm on the management and master plan, paying up to $28,000 for the services. Fyall said the plan will touch on everything from trails to amenities to access to restoration.
After the report, Commissioner Shon Small, chairman of the three-member board, said he feels "a lot of good things are going on out there" in county parks.
Commissioner Jim Beaver added that ensuring the county has places for recreation is important. "Providing that for our community, it does in my mind build a better community," he said.
w Sara Schilling: 582-1529; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @saraTCHerald