This map shows Conservation Futures projects around Snohomish County. (Courtesy of Snohomish County Parks)

$31M spent saving wilderness, parks, farms in Snohomish Co.

EVERETT — A map at the back of the room showed clusters of color all over the Snohomish County, each one representing a piece of land that has been preserved as forest, farmland or open space.

The map was the first thing people saw when they came to Thursday’s celebration of Snohomish County’s Conservation Futures program at the county campus. It showed more than $31 million worth of spending under the program on land and property easements over the last five years.

Conservation Futures provides money to cities, nonprofits and the county for preservation projects through a competitive grant process. In 2013, the county issued a $25 million bond for the program.

Thursday’s event marked the end of the bond spending, county parks director Tom Teigen said. Leaders and employees from the county, cities, state organizations and conservation groups gathered.

Though the bond money now is spent, the program is expected to continue.

Among projects that have won funding from Conservation Futures is West Lake Roesiger, where 6,000 houses were going to be built until the property was bought and preserved as wilderness. The money also has preserved several local farms, including Riverbend Farm in Arlington and Bailey Farm in Snohomish.

Millions of dollars have gone toward conservation easements, which protect land from being developed. That was the case at both of the farms.

Since 2011, Conservation Futures dollars have been used for 16 purchases by cities, three by nonprofits and 20 by the county. State, federal and local funds have been used along with the grants. Some of the properties are several hundred acres.

It’s not just the big ones that matter, though. Some important spots are less than five acres in the middle of bustling cities, where woods or fields are hard to come by. For example, a purchase in Mountlake Terrace added about 3 acres to Terrace Creek Park.

“When you get into urban areas, 3 acres costs a lot more than in other areas,” Mountlake Terrace parks director Jeff Betz said. “Being able to get that access is important.”

Randy Lord, a councilman in Mukilteo, sits on the advisory board for Conservation Futures. The value of open spaces — which can’t be built into big parks with athletic fields or community centers if they are paid for by the program — is that they give people a chance to get outside in their own town or city.

“I can go anywhere in Snohomish County now and see a piece of land we’ve saved,” he said.

The Friends of North Creek Forest were able to protect their forest with help from Conservation Futures programs in both Snohomish and King counties, said David Bain, the group’s vice president.

“We have a great patch of forest in Bothell and we’re getting kids out there to teach them about trees and birds and water and how what happens outside of the forest impacts what happens inside of the forest,” he said.

Mayors and park directors talked about the projects in their cities, such as Japanese Gulch in Mukilteo and a new boat launch on former farmland along the Snohomish River.

In Sultan, the program helped create a trail between two parks. Susie’s Trail is named after a longtime volunteer who died of cancer last year.

“I’m sure that ours is the smallest project you’ve ever done,” Sultan Mayor Carolyn Eslick said. “But to us, it was huge.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com

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