Benton County officials are putting together a plan to guide use and shape future improvements at the Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve -- the most popular county park and one of the best-used in the region.
A public workshop is tonight. The session, which starts at 6 p.m. at Bethel Church in Richland, will focus on the preserve's network of trails.
It will include information from a panel of experts on trails, including some retired U.S. Forest Service workers. Officials also want to hear from community members -- what they like about the Badger trails, any changes they'd like to see and their hopes for future additions.
The preserve has three trails that total about six miles. An additional trail on Badger's southern base has been discussed and could happen in the near future. Officials also have talked about adding one or two routes on the north side that bypass the existing steps, and maintaining a steeper, more direct route to the top.
The workshop is the second one scheduled in the past several weeks as part of the county's effort to create a Badger Mountain Management & Master Plan. A workshop that focused on a vision for the preserve, as well as rules, regulations and user expectations, was held in November.
The county is using the Spokane-based community planning and design firm Studio Cascade to help with the process and has budgeted up to $28,000 for the project.
"We know (Badger) is a popular resource. We know there's a diversity of users, in terms of ability levels and types of use -- hiking, biking, horseback riding. And we know that it's an opportunity for out-of-town folks. It's a local resource but it's also a visitor resource," said Adam Fyall, the county's sustainable development coordinator. The county has done a good job so far with management but it's time for a formal plan to be in place, Fyall added.
Community input from tonight's workshop, along with thoughts and recommendations from the trail experts, will be used in crafting the plan, Fyall said.
Community members still can provide input even if they can't make tonight's meeting by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
A draft of the plan could be ready as early as February.
The preserve, which was established in 2005 after a grassroots fundraising effort led by the nonprofit Friends of Badger Mountain, now totals more than 640 acres. It's become one of the most popular recreation spots in the Tri-Cities.
Last year, about 187,800 visits were recorded. This year, "we're shooting for 200,000," said Jim Langdon, who serves as trailmaster for Friends of Badger Mountain.
He said he's glad to see the management and master plan come together, saying it will "settle out some things," such as amenities like benches that can be located along the trails.
He urged the public to attend tonight's meeting. "It's a popular place," he said, "and this is a chance to give their opinion on how it should be."
The county has more information about the plan process at tinyurl.com/BadgerPlan.
Bethel Church is at 600 Shockley Road.
-- Sara Schilling: 582-1529; email@example.com; Twitter: @saraTCHerald