CH2M Hill gives Badger Mountain group $500,000 for trails (w/video)

A campaign to create a 20-mile trail across Tri-City area ridges got jump-started with a $500,000 pledge Thursday from CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co.

Friends of Badger Mountain announced a public campaign with the donation to raise $1.5 million to create a new preserve at Candy Mountain and then a trail from Amon Creek in south Richland to the Yakima River.

It would travel across four ridges -- Little Badger, Badger, Candy and Red mountains.

"Most people think of the river," said Bob Bass, president of the Friends of Badger Mountain. "But the ridges are really special. You do not find them everywhere (in the United States), and where you do find them, they are covered with homes and roads."

Most of the $1.5 million would be used to buy 205 acres on Candy Mountain south of West Richland between Badger and Red Mountains. It is the last major land purchase needed to connect the proposed trail system, said Sharon Grant, co-founder of Friends of Badger Mountain.

That could create a park similar to the Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve, which was visited by more than 200,000 people to hike above the Tri-Cities last year, Bass said.

The Candy Mountain preserve would include a trail to the mountain's summit through shrub steppe habitat with views of the Horse Heaven Hills and rural landscapes. It would give hikers, bikers and horseback riders an alternative to the heavily used trails on Badger Mountain.

Already donated land, existing trails and easements should create the rest of the trail, with some help from vineyard owners on Red Mountain.

Some of the $1.5 million in the Ridge Preservation and Trail Campaign fundraiser also would be used to build trails and create trailheads.

Friends of Badger Mountain already has raised $280,000 after a "silent campaign" in the past five months.

CH2M Hill, the central Hanford and groundwater cleanup contractor for the Department of Energy, was unaware of the trails plan when it started looking for a community legacy project.

It wanted to leave a lasting footprint in the Tri-City area when its contract expires in 2018 with the use of corporate money and worker "sweat equity."

Employees made more than 130 suggestions, with many of them interested in outdoor projects related to parks, rivers and trails, said John Fulton, president of CH2M Hill.

The kickoff of the Friends of Badger Mountain fundraiser to expand the ridge trail system and the interest of CH2M Hill employees was "a perfect marriage," Fulton said.

CH2M Hill's 1,400 employees and their families are expected to help with the work of building the trails and trailheads, he said. A monument and information on the contributions of workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation from World War II to Friday is planned at a trailhead.

CH2M Hill will make the donation in $100,000 contributions annually for five years.

"Let's get this land bought, the preserve done and the trails built," Fulton said. He passed an oversized check to Bass at the Badger Mountain trailhead, as hikers wound up and down the mountain's trails behind him Thursday afternoon.

Friends of Badger Mountain has a two-year agreement to raise money with the owners of the land it would like to buy on Candy Mountain. Some of the land is owned by Dr. Robert Margulies of the Tri-Cities and some of it is owned by Mark Ufkes, who grew up in the Tri-City area but now lives on the west side of the state, Bass said.

Benton County is expected to seek $750,000 from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office to help buy the land, with the Friends of Badger Mountain committed to raising matching money.

The county would own the Candy Mountain land, and Friends of Badger would take the lead on building trails and stewardship.

The donation from CH2M Hill came together quickly after Fulton called Grant to ask about possible projects three weeks ago.

But the project has been in the making for almost a dozen years, Grant said. That's when Grant and Mark Hoza began looking for ways to maintain recreational access to Tri-City-area ridges and to maintain their silhouette, leading to the formation of Friends of Badger Mountain.

A task force has been working with wineries and vineyards for three years to help make their interest in expanding the ridge trail system a reality, she said.

Donations for the Ridge Preservation and Trail Campaign may be made at www.friends

ofbadger.org or mailed to Friends of Badger Mountain, P.O. Box 24, Richland, WA 99352.

Those who hike the Badger Mountain preserve also can make a donation while they are there, using their mobile phone and the QR code posted at the kiosk at the trailhead. They also can watch the campaign's progress at a donation thermometer that will be placed there.

-- Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @HanfordNews