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Parks could grow by 200 treed acres

Two hundred acres of forest near Coles Road and Highway 525 could become a county park, if the state can find the money to pay for it.

Divided by Highway 525 with 160 acres on the south side and 40 acres on the north side between Coles and Crawford Roads, it could be added to South Whidbey Park and Recreation District.

The heavily forested site behind the House of Prayer is currently owned by the Department of Natural Resources, and is in the Trust Land Transfer Program. To become an addition to the parks district, a proposal to hand it over to the district must pass two screenings in 2005.

Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland must give his OK to transfer the land to the parks district, then the legislature must agree to fund it. The value of the land and timber is likely in excess of $1 million, according to the parks district.

If this happens, the district’s holdings will more than double, from 120 acres to 320 acres.

Interim South Whidbey Park and Recreation District director Lee McFarland would like to see it happen. He has already walked a trail in the woods around the larger section.

“Its would be nice to keep these big chunks of land together for public use,” he said this week.

McFarland said there are several possible access locations from Highway 525. Easements from private property owners could connect the acreage to the existing trails at the district-owned South Whidbey Community Park on Maxwelton Road, McFarland said.

The Trust Land Transfer Program was created to protect special trust lands, provide funds for school construction and reposition trust lands to increase revenues and reduce management costs.

When Washington joined became a state in the 1800s, it received land grants from the federal government to be held in trust and to be managed to benefit schools and other institutions. In the 1960s, a constitutional amendment created the Common School Construction account and directed the revenues from the trust lands for school construction.

Over time, some of the land has become more valuable for residential or commercial use. Many trust properties could not be managed efficiently to generate revenue. The proceeds from a sale or a transfer paid by the state Legislature, are used to acquire property that can be better managed to generate revenue.

Since 1989, more than $400 million has been appropriated for acquiring and protecting more than 75,000 acres of selected special trust lands.

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