Board gives Mid-Columbia $3M for recreation projects

Burrowing owls, ferruginous hawks, boaters, shooters and off-road motorcyling enthusiasts will benefit from about $3 million in state grants for recreation-related projects in Benton County in coming months.

The money is part of $67 million awarded by the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Funding Board for 234 projects across the state to improve trails, parks and habitat.

"These grants feed right into local communities that have applied for funds to complete long-sought local projects," said Bill Chapman, chairman of the Recreation and Conservation Funding Board, in a news release issued this week.

Benton County's share of the funds will go to six projects.

They include:

w $494,000 to build a much-needed boat launch facility at Paterson on the Columbia River. The Department of Fish and Wildlife will install a boat loading platform and a boat ramp, improve the approach and turn-around road, install a vault toilet and make improvements for people with disabilities.

The Paterson area has no official boat launch despite being one of the most popular stretches for boating on the lower Columbia River and no proper place to put in for 25 miles.

Currently, boaters must navigate a very shallow gravel bar to reach sufficient water.

w $1.8 million to help purchase about 6,500 acres of ecologically significant shrub steppe habitat near Rattlesnake Mountain as important land for burrowing owls, ferruginous hawks, Townsend's ground squirrels, American badgers, black- and white-tailed jackrabbits, sage sparrows, sage thrashers, elk and mule deer.

Acquiring the land will help conserve wildlife corridors and buffer existing conservation lands at Hanford Reach National Monument and the Sunnyside Wildlife Area on the north side of the mountain.

It also will benefit fauna on the south side, preventing development of wind turbines, houses and vineyards.

The project is supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Richland Rod & Gun Club and the Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society.

Around $3.5 million was requested.

w $414,000 for installing about 100 RV camping hook-up spots with electricity and water at the Horn Rapids ORV Park, and another $100,000 to upgrade the septic dumping station with access to a pressurized drain field.

The current dump site is undersized and closed.

Phil Pinard, planning and construction manager for Richland's Parks and Recreation Department, said the improvements are much needed and will help organize the dry camping area next to the motocross track. "It's pretty haphazard now," he said.

Richland's share of the cost for the projects is estimated at around $15,000.

w $88,340 for the Port of Benton to enlarge the launch area and add 24 boat slips at Crow Butte Park, including extending the floating dock, improving parking, and adding a restroom and fish cleaning station. The port will invest $30,000 in the project.

w $100,000 to the Tri-Cities Shooting Association to help build a new shooting clubhouse near the shotgun range off Highway 225 that also will serve as a classroom and meeting area, and have a kitchenette.

Ron Davidson, association vice president, said the group is willing to put up $184,000 to complete the project, which he said should be completed in the spring.

In all, the board received grant applications for more than 400 projects requesting about $200 million.

"There's a tremendous need out there and we're only able to fund about half of the projects requested each year," Chapman said.

No projects in Franklin County earned an award this year, but Walla Walla County received $96,000 to develop the Walla Walla Gun Club Shooting Range, Grant County $249,000 to maintain ORV areas and provide deputies for county patrols, and Yakima County about $2.6 million for a variety of projects including maintaining national forest trails, providing a ranger for off-road vehicle education in the Naches Ranger District and other projects.

For the full state list, go to http://bit.ly/conservationgrants