Richland parks get partial funding
Acquisition of Amon Creek property and expansion of Claybell Park in Richland would receive at least partial funding under Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed budget, which provides $70 million for the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program.
The budget proposal fell short of supporters' request for $100 million for the grant program, however, and while they say the governor's budget goes a long way toward helping parks, they believe more money is needed to take advantage of land-purchase opportunities.
"WWRP is a great idea and wonderful for all the communities in Washington, but ... they have not had an increase and the demand (for parks) has really increased," said Scott Woodward, president of Tapteal Greenway in Richland. "It really is time to fund that properly."
The Washington Wildlife and Recreation Coalition, which promotes funding for the program to develop recreation and wildlife areas, said it will try to convince the Legislature to increase funding by another $30 million for the grant program.
Joanna Grist, the coalition's director, said she hopes the grant program's funding will catch up with other portions of the capital budget that have increased every biennium since the wildlife and recreation program was created in 1990.
"Gov. Gregoire's proposed budget for the WWRP will go far towards improving our quality of life, which is so important to keeping our economy strong," Grist said. "But additional funding is essential because many of these projects may soon be out of reach as real estate prices and other costs increase."
Woodward, who has worked on Amon Creek protection for about three years, said Richland's two projects face exactly that sort of threat -- particularly as the land becomes more appealing to developers.
A recent land appraisal for 60 acres along the west leg of Amon Creek was higher than expected when it came in at $1.5 million, but two landowners agreed to donate some of the property to bring down the price.
The Richland Parks & Recreation Department applied for a $404,780 grant. Along with a $739,500 match provided by the Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, Woodward said the money would be enough to buy the sensitive habitat, which includes a salmon spawning tributary feeding into the Yakima River.
Phil Pinard, planning and capital projects manager for the Richland Parks and Recreation Department, said Amon Creek and Claybell Park represent portions of the Tri-Cities that are unique and irreplaceable, making them worthwhile to save for future generations.
"You've got an environment you just don't find anywhere else in the Tri-Cities," he said. "It's more of a regional benefit. I think it's going to be a draw for both (Richland and Kennewick)."
The project's goal is to protect the property from residential development and to preserve the land while developing trails and interpretive signs to educate hikers about the habitat, fish and wildlife of the area.
"We don't have much space left," Woodward said. "The threat of development is still very real. If we lose those opportunities, there's not much left we can grab."
Richland also applied for a grant to buy nearly 25 acres from the Department of Natural Resources for expansion of Claybell Park. The city asked for a $195,960 grant, which requires a match of $272,000.
With $70 million, the wildlife and recreation program will provide 25 percent of the funding for the project. At the $100 million level, the purchase is fully funded.
Pinard said the Richland City Council already agreed to pay for the Claybell Park expansion regardless of state funding, but the grant would help to reallocate money to other city needs.
Ideally, Woodward said Claybell Park expansion would connect to Amon Park and create a corridor of natural trails for hikers. Woodward said money won't immediately allow for the project to be built out that way, but he is holding out hope future expansions will connect the two projects.
Claybell Park is built on 11 acres and consists of two tennis courts, a basketball court and a ball field. With the additional land, the city could develop 10 to 12 more acres with parking, restrooms, turf for two soccer fields, picnic shelters and paved pathways. The remaining acreage would be left in a natural state.
The interagency committee that oversees WWRP grants has recommended funding 133 park, trail, habitat areas and working farm preservation projects across the state.
Funding for the Bombing Range Sports Complex in West Richland and the Benton City Aquatic Park are alternate projects that have not been approved for immediate funding.