By Chris Hendrickson, Special to the Monitor
The Snohomish County Council has awarded over $500,000 to assist in the preservation of Sky Valley forestland.
Both Heybrook Ridge and the Lower Wallace River conservation areas were chosen to receive grant funds through the Snohomish County Conservation Futures program. The grant program was created to help promote the maintenance and preservation of open land, parks, timberland and agricultural land.
The Conservation Futures Advisory Board makes annual recommendations to the Snohomish County Council for potential projects to fund. In a board meeting that took place on Jan. 15, seven out of nine projects proposed were selected to receive grant funds. The projects were then slated to obtain final approval, which was granted in a general legislative meeting that took place on Wednesday, Feb. 20 at the Snohomish County Administrative Building in Everett.
Heybrook Ridge County Park, presented to the futures program by Snohomish County Parks, is located in between the north and south forks of the Skykomish River. Parks was awarded a $299,000 grant for property acquisition, which will help create public access to the park with a new trailhead and parking area.
The funds will be allocated for the purchase of two parcels of land totaling 5.49 acres, and the long-term lease of an additional 2.77-acre parcel of land. These parcels are located on or near the Index-Galena Road in Sultan. This property acquisition will directly connect Heybrook Ridge to the Town of Index trail system, including access to the rock-climbing area there.
The grant money is another great victory for the non-profit organization Friends of Heybrook Ridge. The organization championed an effort to save the area from a planned 95-acre timber harvest in 2008. Through donations and a partnership with Snohomish County Parks, which now operates the park, the lush forest area above Index was saved.
Forterra Northwest sponsored the lower Wallace River Conservation Area project and was awarded a $250,000 grant for property acquisition. The lower river conservation area is located west of Gold Bar, and is in close proximity to the Wallace River salmon hatchery located between May Creek and the Wallace River in Sultan. Timber harvesting in this area would be detrimental to the natural habitat influenced by the river, potentially reducing wildlife and fish populations, causing reduction of water quality and possibly bank erosion.
“It’s adjacent to the salmon hatchery, which makes it an ideal spawning area,” said Sabrina Bolieu, who is the North Sound Conservation Project Manager at Forterra.
Forterra’s award is contingent upon them securing matching funds through grants, donations or other sources.
Property acquisition funds for this conservation project are crucial to its success. Forterra has identified approximately 135 acres valued at $1.6 million in the Wallace River area that they will work to preserve. When working with a willing seller, as in the case of the Wallace River Conservation Area, they are often able to negotiate purchasing the property in smaller pieces as funding becomes available. This prevents the parcel from being sold outright to a timber company intending to clear-cut.
The Conservation Futures Program was established by the Snohomish County Council in 1988. The resources come from taxes on real property, timber sales taxes, a leasehold tax and investment interest. These revenues are then dedicated to preserving open space.
Snohomish County Council documentation states that the fund’s intent is to “acquire rights and interests in open space land, farm and agricultural land, and timberland … so as to protect, preserve, maintain, improve, restore, … or otherwise conserve property for public use and enjoyment.”
Organizations eligible to apply for conservation grant funds are local governments and non-profit groups whose eligibility is contingent on certain criteria.
The futures advisory board consists of an executive, two county councilmembers, two city representatives and two appointed citizens.
“Conservation Futures dollars have been an incredible vehicle toward securing pristine lands for the benefit of Snohomish County residents now and in the future,” stated Tom Teigen, Director of Snohomish County Parks.