Money to help safeguard area land —

Money to help safeguard area land

John Dodge, The Olympian, May 26, 2005

By John Dodge, for The Olympian

May 26, 2005

State program provides funding for three South Sound projects

A South Sound ballpark, an urban trail and three special habitat areas owned by the state will benefit from more than $3 million in state money during the next two years.

 The projects are among 75 statewide that will receive $48 million from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program's 2005-07 budget, the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation announced.

"Our goal is to protect the most significant lands for wildlife and outdoor recreation before they are converted to other uses," said Val Ogden, a former state legislator from Vancouver and chairman of the interagency committee. "We also want to develop recreational lands to meet the needs of present and future generations."

The South Sound project descriptions and funding totals include:

Purchase lights and electronic scoreboards for five baseball and softball fields at the regional sports complex that Lacey and Thurston County are developing near Marvin and Steilacoom roads ($240,000).

Help complete phase one of the Olympia Woodland Trail, which includes paving 1.6 miles of former railroad right of way, which runs east and west between Eastside and Dayton streets ($300,000). Phase one also includes a trailhead with a restroom, shelters, bike and vehicle parking and information kiosk.

"This is a major milestone for the project," said Jack Horton, president of the Woodland Trail Greenway Association, a 250-member group working on the urban trail to link downtown Olympia to the Chehalis Western Trail in Lacey. "The whole project has been waiting on the IAC funding."

Horton predicted that construction of the urban trail will occur later this year.

A 116-acre expansion of the Woodard Bay Natural Resources Conservation Area on Henderson Inlet north of Lacey. The state Department of Natural Resources will use the money to buy critical wildlife habitat, including areas for nesting bald eagles, a heron rookery, the largest harbor seal nursery in South Sound and a bat colony ($822,297).

A 45-acre expansion of the Kennedy Creek Natural Area Preserve that includes three salt marshes, tidally influenced areas of Schneider Creek and forestland that otherwise could be logged ($664,807). The Kennedy Creek estuary is important habitat for shorebirds, waterfowl, native salmon, bald eagles and peregrine falcons.

A 177.5-acre expansion of two natural area preserves near Hood Canal and the Skokomish River in Mason County -- Shumocher Creek and Ink Blot. The preserves are home to rare wetland and bog ecosystems ($1,307,460).

"We do have willing sellers at all of these sites," said Pene Speaks, an assistant division manager in DNR's Natural Heritage Program.

At the prodding of outdoor enthusiasts, conservationists and others, the state Legislature created the program in 1990. Since then, 700 projects totaling $453 million have received money raised through the sale of state general obligation bonds.

State lawmakers made three major changes to the program in the 2005 session with passage of Senate Bill 5396.

Counties and other local governments can apply for grants to protect or restore shorelines, rivers, streams and other waterways.

Local governments also can apply for grants to protect farmlands.

"This gives counties and cities a powerful tool to help keep farmers farming," said Terry Hunt, president of the Washington State Grange.

The bill also requires the state department of Natural Resources and Fish and Wildlife to make payments to counties in lieu of taxes on land the state agencies buy or protect as habitat, effective July 2007.

The payments will be roughly $150,000 a year for DNR, Speaks said.

"It could cut into some of our maintenance work, such as weed control," Speaks said of the payments. "But the program will survive."

John Dodge covers the environment and energy for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5444 or jdodge@ olympia.gannett.com.




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