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Ex-Microsoft exec says ‘no’ to Red Mountain ridge trail

The proposed trailhead parking lot for the Red Mountain hiking area is visible near the dirt road at the base of the mountain on the right of this aerial photo, next to the paved Antinori Road leading to the Col Solare Winery near Benton City.
The proposed trailhead parking lot for the Red Mountain hiking area is visible near the dirt road at the base of the mountain on the right of this aerial photo, next to the paved Antinori Road leading to the Col Solare Winery near Benton City. Tri-City Herald

Dreams of a 20-mile ridge-to-ridge trail stretching from Richland’s Amon Basin to the Yakima River have run into a hitch.

The Seattle-based limited liability corporation that owns 138 acres along the ridgeline will not grant a 20-foot pedestrian-only easement for the trail.

Benton County property records indicate Red Mountain Ridgeline LLC paid $600,000 for the property in 2008. It is the only one, out of five Red Mountain property owners, to refuse to allow public access across its land, according to Friends of Badger Mountain, the group behind the ridge-to-ridge effort.

Without an easement, Friends of Badger Mountain is hard-pressed to fulfill its dream.

The proposed trail on Red Mountain begins at Antinori Road and ascends the hill on its southwestern flank, reaching a tower at the ridge. It then would follow the ridge and descend to the Yakima River.

In a nod to sensitive agricultural concerns on Red Mountain, Friends of Badger proposed an easement to allow hikers, but not bicyclists or equestrians, on the trail.

Without the easement, the trail would end at the tower.

“It would stop the trail,” said Sharon Grant, a board member who has worked for almost six years to get access for a Red Mountain trail.

It would stop the trail.

Sharon Grant, Friends of Badger Mountain

Friends of Badger Mountain previously led the efforts to create nature preserves and trails on neighboring Badger Mountain and Candy Mountain.

Thanks to the group’s work, Benton County completed an acquisition of property on Candy Mountain in 2016 after collecting donations and a major grant from the state Recreation and Conservation Office.

Badger Mountain is one of the most popular hikes in Washington. Friends of Badger Mountain recorded 217,000 visits on five open trails in 2014.

Trail construction began last fall.

On Candy Mountain, Friends pursued private and public money to buy the property.

On Red Mountain, a lucrative wine grape growing region, the group took a different approach. In consultation with Benton County, it hoped to secure recreation easements from private property owners, as well as the state Department of Natural Lands.

“There is no way that we could ever raise the money to acquire land on Red Mountain,” Grant said.

There is no way that we could ever raise the money to acquire land on Red Mountain.

Sharon Grant, Friends of Badger Mountain

Red Mountain’s prominence has been rising for more than two decades. Its unique growing climate led to its 2001 designation as an American Viticultural Area, Washington’s smallest.

In 2015, the Kennewick Irrigation District completed a $20 million project to bring Yakima River water to the 1,400-foot mountain’s slopes, further sparking vineyard development.

Grant and the group’s attorney said the other owners, including the state Department of Natural Resources, have indicated their support for the trail plan in part because it complements wine-related tourism at Red Mountain.

Sarah Goedhart, who has worked with Grant to establish the Red Mountain link, said the winery community endorses the idea, viewing it as highly compatible with wine-related tourism.

“This would be good for tourism and wineries and the region in general,” she said. “The top of the mountain is now off limits.”

This would be good for tourism and wineries and the region in general. The top of the mountain is now off limits.

Sarah Goedhart, Friends of Badger Mountain

An out-and-back trail wouldn’t bring hikers past the other vineyards and wineries at Red Mountain and it would disappoint users as well, according to Grant. “Once you get people to the top, of course they want to walk along the ridge,” she said.

According to corporate registration documents filed with the Washington Secretary of State, Red Mountain Ridgeline is led by Cameron Myhrvold.

Myhrvold is a former Microsoft executive who formed, then sold, a software firm to Microsoft. He also co-founded Ignition Partners LLC, a Bellevue firm that invests in early state business-to-business software companies and serves on numerous boards connected to tech firms, according to his public profile on Ignition’s website.

His office said he was in Hawaii with family this week. He did not respond to messages emailed in care of his attorney, Taro Kusunose, or Ignition about the access issue.

And Friends of Badger Mountain isn’t the only group the Red Mountin Ridgeline owner turned down.

It’s getting harder and harder to find trails as property turns into (vineyards).

Jason Reathaford, Badger Mountain Challenge

Jason Reathaford, who organizes the annual Badger Mountain Challenge, said the property owner also turned down a request from his group.

It means the seventh running of the Badger Mountain Challenge will be parallel to the Red Mountain ridgeline instead of running along it. In the first six years, the grueling 50-mile route began at Badger Mountain, went over Candy Mountain, then Red Mountain, and then into the Horse Heaven Hills.

Reathaford said it appeared liability is a concern. He’s scrambling to reroute that section of the race through the area between Candy and Red mountains.

The alternate route will not be as attractive to serious trail runners, he said.

Reathaford expects 700 people to participate in one of the four versions of this year’s race, which is March 24-25.

“It’s getting harder and harder to find trails as property turns into (vineyards),” he said. “That’s part of the story of Red Mountain. We need to enjoy the trails and open space as we have them. That’s the point of the trail race.”

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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