A public preserve could be created on Candy Mountain south of West Richland, similar to the popular Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve that draws thousands of people each year.
Benton County will seek $750,000 from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office. And the Friends of Badger Mountain committed to raise the match.
The money would buy about 200 acres of Candy Mountain and pay for building trails and maintenance.
Creating a public preserve there is part of a larger vision for a public ridgetop trail system running from Amon Basin about 20 miles northwest to the Yakima River. The system would connect Little Badger Mountain, Badger Mountain, Candy Mountain and Red Mountain.
Benton County commissioners on Tuesday voted 2-0 to go after the state grant. Commissioner Shon Small was absent.
"We've got to create (places) for people to have recreation and play," said Commissioner Jim Beaver, board chairman. "We've got to build a better (community) for everybody, that's part of our role here."
The Badger Mountain preserve was established in 2005 after a grassroots fundraising effort led by Friends of Badger. The preserve is more than 640 acres.
It's the most popular county park and is one of the best-used recreation spots in the region. In 2012, about 187,800 visits were recorded; last year's total isn't finalized but is expected to total about 200,000 visits.
As with the Badger Mountain preserve, Benton County would own the Candy Mountain land and Friends of Badger would take the lead on building trails and stewardship. "With very few exceptions, almost all of the work on trails and other things within the (Badger Mountain) preserve have been done by volunteers organized by Friends," said a county staff report.
Benton County contributed $100,000 toward a bathroom at the trailhead park in Richland, but has otherwise spent less than $50,000 and fewer than 200 hours of staff time in the park in nine years, said the report.
David Comstock, vice president of Friends of Badger Mountain, made the Candy Mountain pitch to county commissioners Tuesday. "It's important that we preserve these key features of our community before they're developed," he told the Herald after the session in Prosser. "Now is the time to do it, before these opportunities are gone."
He also said the Candy Mountain preserve and the public ridgetop trail system would bring economic benefits to the community, from raising property values in areas near the trails and open space to attracting sports and recreation events that draw visitors. Friends of Badger already has about 25 percent of the $750,000 it would need to match the state recreation grant.
In recent months, Comstock and some other local advocates have been working on a separate conservation financing proposal for the fall election. The group is expected to come to commissioners this spring to request their proposal be placed on the fall ballot.
The concept that has been discussed is a property tax increase -- costing $11 a year for the average household -- to pay for projects from buying land for parks to preserving farmland and wildlife habitat. A survey conducted last fall in Benton County found majority support for such a proposal. The county would administer the money.
A Candy Mountain preserve is the kind of project that could be eligible for money from the pot if a measure ultimately is approved by voters. Comstock said the Badger Mountain preserve is a local treasure that people from throughout the community enjoy.
"If we're able to create another preserve like that, I think it's a gift to the whole community," he said.
Friends of Badger Mountain: www.friendsofbadger.org.