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Benton County to buy Candy Mountain land for preserve

Benton County is buying nearly 200 acres for the Candy Mountain Preserve this spring. This view facing east shows the mountain flanked by Kennedy Road on the left and Interstate 82 curving to the right.
Benton County is buying nearly 200 acres for the Candy Mountain Preserve this spring. This view facing east shows the mountain flanked by Kennedy Road on the left and Interstate 82 curving to the right. Tri-City Herald

Hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians will soon have legal access to the summit of Candy Mountain.

Benton County will buy nearly 200 acres for the Candy Mountain Preserve this spring after the county commissioners signed off on a financial agreement Tuesday.

Candy Mountain Preserve is the next link in Friends of Badger Mountain’s vision of a 20-mile network of ridge-top trails that starts at Amon Basin on the Kennewick-Richland border and extends to the Yakima River by way of the summits of Little Badger Mountain, Badger Mountain, Candy Mountain and Red Mountain.

The nonprofit began talking to owners of the Candy Mountain properties more than a decade ago about retaining the mountaintop for a preserve and providing public access to the summit.

Negotiations began in earnest in 2011 and a successful fundraising campaign followed. Candy Mountain will become a twin of sorts to Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve, which debuted in 2005 and is among Washington’s most-summited hillside.

On Tuesday, county commissioners approved an agreement to buy eight Candy Mountain parcels from owners Bob Margulies and Mark Ufkes, both enthusiastic supporters of preserving the summit for recreation rather than development. The $1.4 million acquisitions should close by the end of March.

$300,000 from CH2M Hill Plateau

$100,000 from Bechtel National

The land purchases are being paid for by $695,000 from Friends of Badger Mountain and matched by a grant from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office. It is Benton County’s first RCO grant since 1999, when the state program helped pay to develop Horn Rapids Park.

Friends of Badger Mountain raised more than $850,000 in support of its Candy Mountain vision, with lead gifts of $300,000 from CH2M Hill Plateau and $100,000 from Bechtel National. In all, 200 individuals and more than 20 businesses contributed to the effort.

Candy Mountain is largely untouched with no history of development or farming and only minimal grazing.

David Comstock, president of Friends of Badger Mountain, said work to establish a trailhead and parking off Dallas Road on the mountain’s south side begins this spring. Trail construction will take place this fall when conditions are more favorable. It should open to the public soon after.

A second open space mountain preserve will help make our area a regional destination for outdoor recreation.

David Comstock, Friends of Badger Mountain

“A second open space mountain preserve will help make our area a regional destination for outdoor recreation,” said Comstock.

Adam Fyall, sustainable development manager for Benton County, said the newest addition should have a minimal impact on Benton County’s budget thanks to heavy support from volunteers and the community.

Candy Mountain Preserve echoes its sister, Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve, by relying on volunteers to develop trails and to maintain the property.

Like Badger Mountain, Candy Mountain will be opened to nonmotorized traffic. The two trails will be linked via Dallas Road. Together, they will form critical links in the Ridges to River vision that extends from Amon Basin at the Kennewick-Richland border to Little Badger, Badger Mountain and now, Candy Mountain.

With Candy Mountain almost secure, Friends of Badger Mountain is taking steps toward its next goal: Red Mountain. Comstock said it began discussing a property purchase with some propery owners there a year ago.

With its five named trails and two routes to the top, Badger Mountain is been an unqualified hit with Tri-City residents and visitors.

An estimated 200,000 hikers made the 900-foot climb to the 1,543-foot mountaintop in 2013, placing it among Washington’s most-hiked peaks.

About 80 percent of visitors access Badger Mountain from a trailhead operated by the city of Richland on the north side. The county maintains a rustic trailhead on the Dallas Road side on the southern slope.

200,000 hikers in 2013

1,543 feet tall

Comstock said the trail route to the Candy Mountain summit has not been finalized but will roughly follow an existing trail.

Candy Mountain will have an elevation gain of about 500 feet from a trailhead on Dallas Road. A series of switchbacks will ensure the slope is never greater than 10 percent. Officials hope to add a trailhead on the north side in the future.

West Richland is thrilled by the addition of the Candy Mountain Preserve. But Aaron Lambert, community development director , said it has no direct access to the property and no plans to establish a trailhead on the north side.

Badger Mountain and Candy Mountain offer more than sweeping views.

Both promise to immerse hikers into the region’s natural history. Both boast granite boulders deposited during the Ice Age Floods and habitat for plants and animals that changes dramatically with elevation and sun exposure.

Sagebrush, bunch grass and various species of flowers grow on their flanks. Migratory birds rest on their peaks and coyotes, the occasional rabbit and rattlesnakes call them home, as does the Townsend’s Ground Squirrel, a threatened species native to the area.

The burrowing squirrel is generally seen only in spring and is “cuter” than the nonnative squirrel species that inhabit Tri-City neighborhoods, Fyall said.

And with temperatures warming up, now is a good time for hikers to venture out to look for them.

Wendy Culverwell: 509-582-1514, @WendyCulverwell

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