Sandpoint is one of the most hip and beautiful communities in Idaho. Located on the shores of Lake Pend Oreille, Sandpoint has a great public beach, sidewalk cafes, craft beer, an annual music festival and many outdoor recreation amenities nearby.
One thing missing – a community forest close to town that everyone could enjoy.
That all changed when the Kaniksu Land Trust raised $2.1 million to purchase 160 acres of land atop a scenic, forested knoll literally minutes from downtown Sandpoint.
Pine Street Woods opened to great fanfare last autumn. Now the Sandpoint community has a new outdoor space for walking, biking, cross country skiing, connecting with nature and learning about sustainable land management.
“We were passionate about this – the idea of having a piece of nature close in, for our entire community to come out and explore, and play, recreate and learn,” said Katie Egland Cox, Executive Director of the Kaniksu Land Trust.
“I already can’t imagine Sandpoint without Pine Street Woods,” added Regan Plumb, KLT Conservation Director.
More than 7 miles of new trails are being built at Pine Street Woods, adjacent to over 12 miles of existing trails in the adjacent Sherwood Forest. Gentle mountain slopes create an ideal place for all abilities to enjoy the trails.
“There is a high fun factor for these trails, and that’s our goal,” said Jeff Thompson, Trails Director for the North Idaho Trails Coalition and a member of the Pine Street Woods Trails and Recreation Committee. “We designed these trails so everyone can have fun, no matter if you’re a 7-year-old on a strider or a professional mountain biker.”
“I see the 7-year-olds hooting and hollering as much as the old guys on mountain bikes. It’s great.”
Pine Street Woods also provides a fun place close to home for people to go snowshoeing, fat-tire biking or Nordic skiing on four miles of groomed trails in the winter.
“This is my first time here,” said a young, teenage girl Nordic skiing last winter in falling snow. “I thought it’d be a fun family activity, and it’s really gorgeous and beautiful out here.”
How did KLT create Pine Street Woods?
It’s been nearly a decade since Kaniksu Land Trust officials first learned about an opportunity to acquire the land. The Weisz family had been raising cattle and managing the forest for some 50 years.
“We had conversations with them about purchasing the property from them and opening it up to the entire community,” Cox said.
The Weisz family was intrigued. Land appraisals indicated KLT would need to raise $2.1 million to acquire the property.
“They held it for us, knowing this would take us a little while. It would take a few years to get the funding to purchase this property,” Cox said.
It turned out to be a big challenge.
“We had never done a significant campaign, and $2.1 million was a lot to raise,” she said. “We had significant help at the very beginning from a variety of funders, and that really gave us the courage to continue on and reach the end.”
KLT secured large gifts from the LOR Foundation and Equinox Foundation to start. It landed a Community Forest Program grant from the U.S. Forest Service and a grant from the Recreation Trails Program, managed by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation.
Local businesses such as Idaho Forest Group and 270 individual donors stepped up to put KLT across the finish line.
“To some of us, it appeared like a miracle,” Cox said. “But I knew our community could do this. Our community is amazing. When you give it a goal that so many people want to see happen, the energy that comes to life here is phenomenal.”
Sustainable land management and education
From the start, KLT wanted to engage in sustainable land management activities at Pine Street Woods.
“In general, we want to be really good stewards of this land,” Plumb said. “Our goal is to involve the public in management decisions so we can tap into the expertise of our community members. Obviously, we’re not experts on range management, forestry management or what have you, but we have a lot of really passionate volunteers who are experts in those areas.”
KLT assembled a team of six forestry experts to craft a forest management plan for Pine Street Woods before it was opened to the public.
“That group of people drafted a really solid and innovative forest management plan that’s guided by principles like forest health, and wildlife habitat and fire mitigation,” she said.
Overall, it’s a healthy forest with great diversity.
“I was amazed when I came up here. You find a cedar and a grand fir, north side, wet shady site, there’s a rocky pine site, there’s mixed Douglas fir and larch, young trees, old trees, a meadow area. It’s difficult to find that much diversity on one chunk of property like that – and just minutes from town – so actually it was quite enjoyable to put that plan together,” said Doug Bradetich, a professional forester for Idaho Forest Group.
As an actively managed forest, Pine Street Woods joins the American Tree Farm system.
The forest also provides learning opportunities for local students. As an example, a portable sawmill has recently been purchased to demonstrate how lumber is made.
John Gaddess, a supervisor on the Bonner County Soil and Water Conservation District board, noted that his organization was pleased to support Kaniksu Land Trust in purchasing a portable sawmill for the benefit of youth education.
For kids to “see that full conversion of natural resources from sustainably managed forests, and the educational opportunities that go with that, and then see the 2-by-4s come out at the end is just perfect for us,” Gaddess said.
“Part of the education would be the actual management of the stand,” Bradetich added. “People would be able to see firsthand as we deal with bugs, disease, rot, growth, thinning – whatever forest health issues.”
“We will use Pine Street Woods as a training site for the state forestry contest, which serves as the final exam for the students in the forestry class, so they take it really seriously,” Plumb said.
As for managing a large meadow in the center of Pine Street Woods, KLT brought in goats, yaks, llamas and sheep to discourage invasive weeds.
“Let me show you what we’re working on here,” Plumb said, walking over to look at the meadow plants. “This is hawk weed, yellow hawk weed, an invasive plant … it also comes in orange. This daisy here is another non-native, oxeye daisy, another species of concern. All three of these reproduce and outcompete our native plants and flowers. So that’s what we’re trying to address with our grazers here.”
The grazing animals were self-selecting the invasive weeds, while being moved each day with solar hot wire fencing.
“They love munching on these flowers,” Plumb said.
KLT has a robust in-school education program as well as a growing summer day camp program called Camp Kaniksu at which kids learn about nature.
“Having Pine Street Woods for our Camp Kaniksu and our education programs, it’s really important,” Cox said. “In order to bring a love of nature to children and adults, you need to bring them out in nature. … Once they spend time out here, they want to take care of it.”
It’s clear that Pine Street Woods will be a huge asset for the Sandpoint community for many years to come.
“It’ll be about all of those stories we carry from the time when we’re children at Camp Kaniksu, to adults when we’re riding bikes or skiing through snow fields, these will be the stories that we share throughout our lives,” Cox said. “When we look back 100 years, Sandpoint wouldn’t be the same without having this, Pine Street Woods.”
Added Plumb: “I’ve been so pleased by the attention it’s received, the number of people discovering it, just amazed by the experiences they’re having. Every time I’m up here, which is almost daily, I encounter somebody who’s here for the first time, and said, ‘This is incredible, what a gift.’ ”
For more information about Pine Street Woods, contact the Kaniksu Land Trust (kaniksulandtrust.org/).