The Spokane County and the city of Spokane agreed to purchase two parcels of land at Beacon Hill, which will protect a mountain biking trail from future development.
The purchase will be a culmination of more than a decade of work from mountain bikers and conservationists who feared the popular biking trail, which is about 50% privately owned, could be turned into a housing development.
The county came to an agreement with landowners Thursday to purchase a combined 40 acres bordering Camp Sekani Park. One parcel the county purchased will connect two sections of public land to ensure that the trail will not end up landlocked by private property. The other section will preserve a downhill biking trail that’s used for racing.
Paul Knowles, Spokane County parks planner, said the land the county purchased Thursday is one of the most important of several land acquisitions the county plans to make over the next year.
“There is truly nothing like this in the state, with the exception of King County,” he said. “This is a very unique place, it’s a valuable asset.”
The downhill section of land is used for races and is one of Beacon Hill’s most valuable assets, said Chris Conley, president of the Eastern Washington chapter of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance.
“Losing that piece at the top of that would lose that race series,” he said. “That’s what made the Paras piece so important.”
The county agreed to purchased that piece from George Paras for almost $2.1 million and the property connecting the two portions of land from Matthew Collin for $65,000.
Knowles said the two properties were similar in size, but the Paras parcel had already been platted as a residential housing development, meaning the total price reflected the cost of every individual lot.
The land will be purchased with Conservation Futures funds, which is a specially set aside property tax used to acquire public lands, and some of that cost, as well as future Beacon Hill land purchases, will be reimbursed if the county and city of Spokane win a grant next year.
Conley said he was pleased with the purchase, but there’s still work to do to purchase the rest of the privately owned Beacon Hill Trail properties to ensure they will remain usable for the public and not be developed.
“We’re not done, and we wouldn’t want to settle with where we’re at at this point, but we’re 50% of the way there to where we want to be,” Conley said.
Angel Spell, assistant director of natural resources for the Spokane Parks Department, said the purchase also puts the city one step closer to realizing the Olmsted Brothers’ plan for the city’s park system. The architects behind many of Spokane’s most popular parks envisioned that what is now Beacon Hill would become Upriver Park.
“It closes those gaps in public property,” she said. “Right now that area of Beacon Hill is a mosaic of public, private ownership.”
Spell said the purchase is also evidence of an effective partnership between local governments and private groups to secure public land.
“All these groups are coming together with the vision of preserving and protecting that public open space and those recreational opportunities,” she said. “From a city perspective, we are absolutely thrilled.”
Dave Schaub, executive director of the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy, is working with Avista Utilities to negotiate a recreate easement for the trail. He said the purchase would help with improving access to public land in Spokane County. He said about 10% of Spokane County’s land is public, significantly less than other counties, and that preserving that land as a public asset will also ensure communities living around Beacon Hill will have continued access to a park.
“The more that we can do to identify and proactively protect those lands for the benefit of future generations, the better quality of life for everyone,” he said.
Schaub said Inland Northwest Conservancy is also looking to find other property across Spokane County that could be converted to public land.
Knowles said the county plans to purchase the remaining Beacon Hill Trail private properties next year with $1.5 million in grants the city and county hope to get .
Editor’s note: The spelling of Matt Collin’s name was corrected and the wording was updated to reflect that the city and county have come to an agreement to purchase the property, but have not yet.