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Land swap may cut recreational access

South Stevens County residents are holding out hope that a proposed exchange of state parcels won’t strip their area of public recreation sites.

The Washington Department of Natural Resources has proposed swapping about 15,100 acres of scattered, typically isolated parcels for 15,900 acres of lands more contiguous to other state trust lands.

Nineteen of the state parcels slated for swap are in southern Stevens County, between Nine Mile Falls and Tum Tum. None of the replacement parcels is in the area, which is near Long Lake (also known as Lake Spokane).

Residents have little access to public parks, said Stevens County Commissioner Tony Delgado. Losing the state parcels would take away hiking, horseback riding and play areas for the roughly 5,600 people living in the region.

“It’s a shock to them, after all these years, that it will be taken away,” Delgado said.

The tracts were selected because they were cut off from larger, contiguous portions of state trust lands and are increasingly difficult to manage, said Bob Redling, spokesman for the DNR. The state has a legal responsibility to manage trust lands to fund public schools and universities.

“This is part of an ongoing effort to make sure these lands continue to provide income,” Redling said.

Although Stevens County holds the largest number of parcels to be exchanged, the proposal also includes lands in other counties, including Pend Oreille and Ferry. The lands would be swapped between the DNR and the Clearwater Group, a private company that facilitates such exchanges.

Stevens County planning commission member Lynn Wells said residents worry the swapped lands will become new housing developments and further clog the area’s limited roads.

“At least two developers are anxiously awaiting this trade because the parcel adjoins their subdivisions,” Wells said.

Residents hope the DNR will keep a small portion of these lands public, Wells said. “We’d be willing to settle for 40 acres or maybe even less.”

Redling, with the DNR, said the agency will consider the request. Public comments will be taken through Nov. 10. The state’s Board of Natural Resources will make a final decision on the swap in coming weeks.

“It’s always possible a parcel will drop out,” he said.