For decades, Beacon Hill, Spokane’s beloved mountain biking area, has lived on borrowed time.
That may change this year.
In May, Spokane County and the City of Spokane will submit two grant requests totaling $1.5 million. If approved, the money would allow the county and city to purchase several parcels of private land on Beacon Hill, thus preserving public access to a popular mountain biking area just minutes from downtown Spokane. Riders there have access to miles of trails, weaving up and down the hill overlooking the Spokane River.
Roughly 90% of those trails are on private land. For decades, land owners have allowed mountain biking and other public use. With a tighter housing market, however, parcels that were once too expensive to develop are becoming more desirable. At the same time, many of the property owners are getting older, said Paul Knowles, Spokane County park planner.
“All these properties were kind of running out of time,” he said.
The grant money would facilitate the purchase of much of that land. The five landowners have verbally agreed to consider selling to the county and city if the grant is awarded, Knowles said. Additionally, the Inland Northwest Land Conservancy is working on a recreation easement through a block of Avista owned land.
“I would just say, we wouldn’t be going down this road if we didn’t have some level of confidence,” Knowles said. “It’s a lot of work to put something like this together and carry it through.”
The first request, for $1 million, will go to the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. The second, for $500,000, will go to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a federal program administered by the state.
The City of Spokane is partnering with the county on the grant application. Already, the city owns and manages Camp Sekani Park. Part of the purchase, if approved, would be owned by the city, thus expanding Camp Sekani. The project would connect with the city-owned Esmeralda Golf Course.
The project is particularly attractive to the city because of its proximity to downtown and its regional importance to recreation, said Garret Jones, the director of Parks and Recreation for the city.
If approved, the 541 acre space would be jointly owned and managed by the city and county, creating a “seamless experience for recreation users,” Knowles said.
The plan has made waves in the mountain biking community. Evergreen East, Spokane’s mountain biking alliance, is a community partner in the grant application and pledged to raise $15,000 in matching funds.
On Sunday, it started fundraising. By Thursday, they’d surpassed their goal with more than 150 individual donors.
“That says a lot about how much community support there is for this project,” said Chris Conley, Evergreen’s president.
The extra money from that fundraiser will help finish the Mica Peak Trail and build the upper 290 Trail on Mount Spokane, he said.
The Inland Northwest Land Conservancy is also partnering on the grant application.
“One of the things that we really hold as a core value is responding to individual property owners and communities to help them protect the lands that they love,” said David Schaub, the executive director of INLC. “This was a really easy, albeit new direction for us to go in. Traditionally, our work has focused on more habitat preservation, but in this case there is a community of users really dedicated to the lands.”
Additionally, the area’s proximity to Hillyard and northeast Spokane, two neighborhoods that are “park deserts” gives it a social justice dimension, he said.
Grants will be announced in September or October, Knowles said. Money for the grants will be allocated by the Legislature in 2021. If the Beacon project grants are accepted, the money will arrive in July or August of 2021.
“It’s actually really cool because, for the most part, every property (owner) is really excited,” Knowles said.
If the project does not receive the grant funding, Knowles said the county will still purchase some of the properties, including land owned by George Paras near the top of Beacon Hill. The county hopes to close on that property in 2020 and be reimbursed in 2021 with grant money.
“People are excited about this and that bodes well for our potential success,” Knowles said. “I think it’s a great project and it provides a lot of potential benefits long term.”
CORRECTION: The original version of this story incorrectly described a verbal agreement between land owners, the county and the city. The story has been updated.
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