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Newman Lake conservation area growing

Hikers pause overlooking Newman Lake while hiking nearly 5 miles of trails on the McKenzie Conservation Area in June 2012. (FILE)
Hikers pause overlooking Newman Lake while hiking nearly 5 miles of trails on the McKenzie Conservation Area in June 2012. (FILE)

Outdoor enthusiasts will soon have more trails and wildlife to discover on the banks of Newman Lake.

Spokane County is in final negotiations to buy 41 acres adjacent to the McKenzie Conservation Area, which already boasts more than 400 acres of pristine forestland and shoreline access. The land would be bought for $275,000, with about $14,000 of that going to continued maintenance of the property, which features a meadow and pond bounded by a wooded ridge, said Paul Knowles, a park planner for Spokane County.

“The current owner did not want to see the property sold off and logged, or potentially developed,” Knowles said.

Existing trailheads and parking made the property a coveted commodity for the county, which recently closed its purchase of 280 acres near Riverside State Park and Sontag Park. The land near Newman Lake was next on the list of preferred parcels under the county’s conservation futures program, which is funded by a property tax levy approved by voters in 1994. Spokane County has purchased more than 30 properties through the program, comprising 7,000 acres of preserved parkland.

Knowles said the family who owns the land near McKenzie bought it in the early 1970s, and has meticulously maintained the land since then.

“It’s a pretty amazing piece of property, for being only 41 acres in size,” he said.

The county hopes to close the sale by Oct. 15. In the meantime, the property owners will remove an uninhabited cabin on the property, and county workers will devise plans to extend existing trails through the new area.

County commissioners applauded the project, saying it would add to outdoor recreation opportunities in the area. But Todd Mielke said he wanted to make sure that commissioners did not remove too many parcels of land from the tax rolls, which could affect the county’s ability to provide other, necessary duties.

“At some point, it does have an impact with regard to our property tax collections and our services,” Mielke said. “At some point, I want to make sure that our long-term goals with regard to conservation futures don’t have a negative impact on our long-term goals to provide other recreational properties in Spokane County, and to be able to pay for those.”

According to the Washington State Conservation and Recreation Office, roughly 9.5 percent of land in Spokane County is publicly owned. That percentage is much lower than other counties in the state, including King County, where public agencies own 52 percent of the available land, and Stevens County, where publicly owned forestlands cover about 28 percent of the available land.

Commissioners have not yet voted to approve the purchase agreement, but are expected to do so soon.


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