A forest’s future

  • By Noah Haglund Herald Writer
  • Wednesday, August 24, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

LAKE ROESIGER — The logged, stump-studded plateau overlooking Lake Stevens and the Puget Sound would have been a great place to build showcase homes.

Instead of a rural patch of suburbia, this expanse of woods and wetlands is on track to be a working forest people can explore on foot, on horseback or by mountain bike.

This is the nearly 3,000 acres west of Lake Roesiger that the state and Snohomish County just bought from a would-be developer.

Leaders from the state Department of Natural Resources, Snohomish County and the Seattle-based Cascade Land Conservancy offered the first public tour of their purchase Tuesday. They gathered at a breathtaking viewpoint to begin planning for the land’s future.

“This is as good has we could’ve hoped for,” said John Ewald, 63, a full-time Lake Roesiger resident who attended the gathering and fought the proposed housing development.

“It’s our region that will benefit from this eventually,” Ewald said.

The state and county on July 5 closed an $8 million deal for the property. Rather than creating a nature preserve, the idea was to keep the land as a timber trust that generates money for K-12 school construction projects. At the same time as it produces logging revenue, the land would be monitored to safeguard water quality and natural habitats.

The land doesn’t come without some challenges. These include deciding which roads to improve and which to shut down; removing at least eight fish-blocking culverts; and grooming neglected patches of forest so they produce usable timber.

The high-quality soil, abundance of rain and land contours make the area great for timber, state Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark said. The land also fits well with other DNR holdings nearby, including forests east of Lake Roesiger.

Goldmark said the purchase is similar to one his agency worked on with King County and the CLC to purchase about 8,000 acres in the Raging River area near I-90. The commissioner called the Lake Roesiger purchase “a particularly heavy lift because it was in bankruptcy.”

Tuesday’s gathering also included an early champion of the effort, County Council Chairman Dave Somers, his dog Hewitt in tow. County parks officials and County Executive Aaron Reardon participated, too, as did CLC president Gene Duvernoy.

The ceremony marked a victory for a contingent of Lake Roesiger locals, environmentalists and others who fought hard to keep the wooded area from massive development.

The land belonged to Dave Barnett, who had planned to develop a master-planned community called Falcon Ridge with thousands of homes, shops and a golf course.

The county in 2009 got rid of the zoning that would have allowed Barnett to build the community. The zoning change also came at a time when the magnitude of the region’s housing slowdown was starting to become apparent.

Barnett last month said he was relieved to have come to an agreement to sell the land. He originally bought his holdings for timber, he said, and wished he would have stuck to that plan. Now, he intends to work on developing a large-scale casino and shopping center for the Cowlitz Tribe near Vancouver, Wash. Barnett is a Cowlitz tribal member and his late father a former leader of the tribe.

For the future, the state and the county plan to coordinate efforts to replant trees, maintain roads and develop recreational facilities on the land.

A rough timeline from the DNR calls for putting together a working group by the end of this year of county and state employees to plan use of the area; preparing an agreement by the end of 2012 for using and maintaining roads; and finishing a final recreation plan by the end of 2014.

Somers said he would like to have at least limited recreational access within a year or two.

The state paid $6.6 million for 2,845 acres. The county owns 40 adjacent acres and has an easement to use 200 more acres of the state land. The nearly $1.4 million used for the county purchase came conservation futures, part of the property tax that’s set aside to buy land for parks and open space.

The plan is for the county to develop parking areas, camp sites and other amenities. Patrons would pay a day-use fee, currently $7 at other county parks, that would help pay for park operations. Every few years, the state will shut down areas to thin out or harvest trees.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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