The potential development of a rare area of old growth sagebrush worries a Kennewick outdoors enthusiast.
A large area off Bofer Canyon Road near the Washington State Patrol office at the interchange of Interstate 82 and Highway 395 has been popular with mountain bikers and hikers.
But development in the Southridge area is also getting closer, particularly with the state Legislature last year approving money for a new bridge at Highway 395 and Ridgeline Drive.
The new connectivity just south of the “sagebrush oasis” makes mountain biker Al Potter of Kennewick think that development of 533 acres owned by the out-of-state Nowak Trust could be imminent. He would like to see a plan put in place to allow the trail system and old growth sagebrush to be maintained.
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The area is a reminder of the days when more shrub-steppe landscape covered large parts of Eastern Washington, Eastern Oregon and Idaho, Potter said. It also has wildlife, including coyotes, hawks and owls.
“I know that as soon as it is gone, a lot of people are going to say, ‘What happened?’ ” Potter said.
Potter has fought to see the property preserved, but would at least like to see the state buy and save nearby sagebrush land for public use in exchange for its development.
There is a definite need for open spaces trail recreation in the Kennewick area for use by many outdoor-minded local residents.
Mountain biker Al Potter of Kennewick
While areas like Badger Mountain near Richland have been preserved, the southern end of the county has been neglected for recreational use, he said.
No development of the property appears imminent, said Perry Harvester, regional habitat program manager with the state Department of Wildlife. The department had discussions last winter with developers about potential mitigation, in which the government is paid so it can protect land elsewhere, but plans never moved forward.
“We haven’t heard anything on that property since almost a year ago,” he said.
Potter would like to see any mitigated area that the state buys for conservation located south of Kennewick.
“If the state is going to accept a large amount of money to strip it clean, it would sure be nice if that money stayed local,” he said. “I’m afraid that if they’re not called on it, they’ll go build a salmon spawning stream in Okanogan County.”
Some have been concerned about the state preserving land nearby since Fish and Wildlife last year offset the planting of vineyards on Red Mountain by buying the 2,900-acre North Fork Cowiche shrub-steppe conservation project — located west of Yakima.
I don’t even know if it’s legitimate to have people out there trespassing on private property. It’s almost like they’re treating that like public land, when it’s private land.
Perry Harvester, regional habitat program manager with the state Department of Wildlife
Harvester said the agency makes its highest priority finding land as close as possible to the area being developed when mitigating. In the case of private property like the Nowak land, Fish and Wildlife only worries about obtaining land to protect wildlife, not to build new trails.
“I don’t even know if it’s legitimate to have people out there trespassing on private property,” Harvester said. “It’s almost like they’re treating that like public land, when it’s private land.”
Harvester suggests that owners put “no trespassing” signs on the property to help with potential liability.
Any development of the property would have to be approved under the State Environmental Policy Act, as well as Kennewick and Benton County, since part of the property is within the city’s urban growth area.
Representatives of the landowners could not be reached for comment.
Potter feels the trail system is beneficial to Kennewick, and helps businesses who cater to people who mountain bike on primitive trails. He said cyclists do a lot of good on the trails, like cleaning up and reporting illegal trash dumping and shooting.
“There is a definite need for open spaces trail recreation in the Kennewick area for use by many outdoor-minded local residents,” he said. “That need is presently served by access to unfenced, unposted private property that will not be available much longer.”