Parks district grows

State approves 200-acre transfer of prime land

South End residents will now have more public trails to enjoy with the transfer of more than 200 acres of prime land in the Maxwelton Valley into the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District.

The property has been earmarked for hiking and equestrian uses, and trails already exist on the land.

The newest acreage has been added to land already owned by the district.

“Up until this time, the residents of South Whidbey have had 120 acres here between the sports complex and community park,” said Terri Arnold, director of the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District.

“We have trails here but they are pretty limited. So this gives us a whole other piece of property to expand our outdoor recreation into,” she said.

Island County recorded the deed Tuesday after the property transfer was signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire. The property comes from school trust lands managed by the state Department of Natural Resources.

Now, the district is formulating plans on how best to provide access and amenities for islanders.

The transfer will also mean the protection of the mature forested parts of the property. The land has high-quality habitat status so that it cannot be harvested, said Patricia Powell, executive director of the Whidbey Camano Land Trust.

“This is the first of the last piece that is left on Whidbey Island. What this program has meant is more than 4,000 acres of state trust land that could have been at risk for development and harvesting will be protected in perpetuity for open space purposes,” Powell said.

“People can enjoy the trails and the upper watershed of the Maxwelton Creek, instead of seeing it potentially built on,” she said.

Other properties are slated for protection under the Trust Land Transfer program, as well. Eleven additional properties are currently approved and awaiting transfer to Island County, provided funding remains available.

The deed transfer dovetails right into what the community desires for the district’s land use, said Arnold.

“The acquisition of this property could not have come at a more opportune time in the district’s history,” she said. “We have just completed a recreation needs assessment in our community and a draft trails plan for the new property.

“When asked to consider what type of land to acquire in the future, the number one response in our survey was for ‘natural areas’ of 40-200 acres. This is exactly the kind of property identified in the survey,” she said.

The funds used to procure the land through the Trust Land Transfer Program will go right back into school funding.

That’s a win-win situation, said Evert Challstedt, project manager for the Trust Land Transfer Program in the Department of Natural Resources.

“This is one of those properties that was found to be better suited for recreational purposes and was sought after by the South Whidbey Parks & Recreation District,” he said. “The way the program works is the property is appraised, and the payment is at market value; the timber value is appraised separately from the land. The timber goes to the common school construction account just as though it had been harvested but we do not harvest it and transfer the property intact. The funds that are appropriated are those funds that would normally go to fund schools K through 12 any way, so it is a double use of the money.”

Many hikers may not notice much of a change with the land transfer.

The land has been used for decades by the general public, Arnold said. Access to the trails is temporarily provided at the House of Prayer Church parking lot at 5719 Pioneer Park Place.

Eventually, parking lots and restrooms will be built, said Arnold.

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