Legislature clears way for Candy Mountain hiking park purchase
The creation of a public hiking trail across the top of Candy Mountain looks close to becoming a reality after state Senate action late last week shortly before the Legislature adjourned.
Money was included in the compromise capital budget that passed June 30 to help buy 195 acres for a trail on Candy Mountain south of West Richland. But a bill authorizing the bonds to allow the purchase to go forward was not taken up by the state Senate until Thursday. It was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on Friday afternoon.
The budget includes $695,377 for Benton County to purchase the Candy Mountain land, which would need to be matched with at least that amount in local money.
Close to enough money for the match has been raised, with Hanford contractor Bechtel National donating $100,000 for the project to the Friends of Badger Mountain in June. Last year CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co., another Hanford contractor, pledged $500,000 to Friends of Badger Mountain in five annual donations.
The purchase would help create a 20-mile ridge line trail linking Badger Mountain to Candy Mountain to Red Mountain, with 360-degree views of the surrounding area, according to the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office.
Tentative plans submitted in the grant application show a parking lot at Dallas Road just north of Interstate 182, and possibly a parking lot to be built later in West Richland.
The park would be similar to the popular Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve in Richland, with four trails on almost a square mile. Visited by more than 200,000 people annually, it is one of the most hiked mountains in the state, according to Friends of Badger Mountain.
The park acreage on Candy Mountain would be smaller and some of the slopes of the mountain would remain private property. The park would preserve the city-facing side of Candy Mountain, according to the state.
The hiking trail would be county park land, with much of the upkeep and trail building expected to be done by volunteers.
The next step will be to write a state contract with the county, which should be done in the next couple of weeks, said Scott Robinson, deputy director of the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office.
The county’s optimistic goal, if the purchase proceeds as anticipated, would be to start working on a parking lot and plans for a trail late this year or early in 2016, said Adam Fyall, sustainable development director for Benton County.
The Friends of Badger Mountain said when Bechtel made its donation that trail construction could start in the spring.
The creation of the park looked in doubt earlier this year when a state budget proposal eliminated funding for most conservation projects providing public access for hiking, camping, hunting and fishing, according to the Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, a partnership of 280 corporate and non-profit partners.
The budget compromise included $55 million for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Project, down from $65 million in the last budget.
The Candy Mountain project was ranked the second highest among proposed purchases of park land, with the top application a park in Lakewood in Pierce County.
The state Recreation and Conservation Office said connecting the ridge line trail was a key goal in the county’s park plan and that it would allow the county to preserve native shrub-steppe habitat. The trail area is home to animals that depend on sagebrush, including Townsend’s ground squirrels and black-tailed jackrabbits.
“The ridges are a special feature of our community and are rapidly being built over,” said the Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society in a letter of support for the grant. “This is a one-time opportunity to preserve a significant portion of one of our ridges.”