WENATCHEE — The Chelan-Douglas Land Trust has bought land in the foothills over the last few years to save it from development and is now asking the community for help conserve it for years to come.
The nonprofit announced today that it has quietly raised $6.4 million in cash and land value as part of its Wenatchee Foothills Campaign, most of which has already been used to buy Saddle Rock, Horse Lake Preserve, more land near the Broadview subdivision and another parcel just east of Castle Rock.
The Land Trust is now appealing to the entire community to help raise the final $1.7 million needed to complete its legacy campaign. That money will be used to buy more land, restore existing trails and bolster the Land Trust’s new stewardship fund that will be used to care for its properties.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Bob Bugert, executive director of the Land Trust, said during a press conference this morning. “It is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves and generations to come.”
He likened the campaign to the community effort 20 years ago to build the Apple Capital Loop Trail.
“A campaign of this scope has never been attempted in the Wenatchee Valley by a nonprofit,” he added.
When the campaign is complete and all the land is bought, the effort will more than double the public lands in the foothills to 6,000 acres, he said. About 3,200 acres will be either owned or managed by the Land Trust, and the rest is owned by public agencies.
The campaign grew out of community concern over the potential residential development of land at the western edge of the city which for years have been used informally for hiking and biking. It started with a community planning phase in 2009-10, when key parcels were identified for possible purchase. After Land Trust officials raised nearly $1 million in a couple of months in 2011 to buy Saddle Rock from the state, Bugert said they realized there was strong community support for conserving the foothills.
So in early 2012, the Land Trust began soliciting donations from community leaders and businesses, including a nearly $1 million donation from retired Drs. Tina and Eliot Scull to pay off the Land Trust’s loan for Horse Lake Ranch.
Sharon Lunz, communication and development director for the organization, said the support for the campaign so far has been diverse, including businesses, developers, real estate professionals, property owners, conservationists, sportsmens groups, recreationists and community organizations like the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce and Wenatchee Downtown Association.
In all, the $8.1 million campaign will go to buy land and easements, to care for the properties and to restore and build trails in an area stretching from just west of Squilchuck State Park to Horse Lake Ranch. The goal is for people to be able to access the foothills as easily as they can a city park, Bugert said.
“It will be transformational for this community,” Wenatchee World Publisher Rufus Woods, a co-chairman for the Foothills Campaign, said this morning.
The Land Trust will also provide small grants to teachers to help pay for field trips into the foothills and will work with the Eastmont School District to develop a program similar to the Wenatchee School District’s program that takes classes into the hills for outdoor education.
The Land Trust plans to host a series of community events starting in March to celebrate its success so far and to encourage the community to get out and enjoy the foothills.
“The timing is right for this,” Bugert said. “We’ve got community support. Land owners are willing to sell. The business community is behind it. We’ve got local government support. We can do this.”
Wenatchee Mayor Frank Kuntz applauded the project this morning, saying, “There are 100 different ways to say this should be done, and there’s no way to say this shouldn’t be done.”
Michelle McNiel: 664-7152