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Goss Lake forest saved

"Photo: Ethan Pinney and Geoff Paul ride along a trail on forest land near Goss Lake. The land was saved from logging last week by a budget bill in the state Legislature.Matt Johnson / staff photoThe trees will remain standing along Lone Lake Road.Months of petitioning and lobbying by Whidbey Island residents and their state legislators paid off late last week when the Washington Legislature sent its supplemental budget bill to the governor's office. Buried deep within the stack of paper that is the budget is about $6 million intended to purchase 600 acres of Department of Natural Resources trust land near Langley. Officially called the Goss Lake parcel, the land was scheduled for logging sometime in the next few years, even though trails on the land have for almost two decades been used by walkers, runners, hikers, bikers, and horse riders.Hundreds of South Whidbey residents signed petitions sent to the DNR and the state legislature earlier this year, asking that the land be saved from the chainsaw. The petitions had the desired effect, and now the state is poised to buy the land from the DNR and turn it over to Island County.Bill Robinson, a staffer in the House's Office of Program Research, said Tuesday that while early legislation sought to lease the land's timber rights for 30 years to prevent cutting, the legislature approved enough funds to buy the land outright. That news pleased Rep. Dave Anderson (D-Clinton).I wanted the outright purchase, frankly, Anderson said.Rep. Kelly Barlean (R-Langley) was the first local legislator to introduce a bill intended to save the forest. On Monday, he was still waiting to hear whether or not the state's Natural Resources Board -- which oversees the DNR -- would accept a purchase offer from the legislature. If it does not, the state might have to settle for a three-decade lease.I wish it was a permanent solution, Barlean said.He said buying the land will be a better deal in the long run.If the money is there, fine, he said.South Whidbey trail-use advocates greeted the news of the near purchase with praise for the citizens and legislators who got involved with the issue. Robert Frey, a local mountain biker and mountain bike racing promoter, said all the trail riders he spoke to favored the purchase. The miles of trails criss-crossing the land are a staple of Sunday mountain bike rides.I think there was a definite interest in saving it. People are definitely in tune with it, he said. It doesn't make any sense economically to have logged it.Hikers, too, are taking solace in the news from Olympia. George Jackman, a member of the Central Whidbey Trails Council, said he noticed DNR surveyers on the trails last year as they began planning a timber cut. Losing the trees and trails to a big harvest would have taken a prime recreation area away from scores of local hikers.Seldom do I go through there when I don't see a hiker, biker, or a horse rider, Jackman said. When the controversy over the land's future started earlier this year, Jackman said the council put trail improvement and expansion plans it had for the Goss Lake parcel on hold. Now that it is likely the land will come under the county's control, he said council volunteers can get to work.Bill Robinson said Island County will probably receive title for the land if the purchase goes through. If the Natural Resources Board approves only a lease, the county will probably manage the land during the lease's term."

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