Our Voice: Wondering if McWhorter Ranch can still provide access to Hanford's Rattlesnake Mountain

Willing buyer meets willing seller. Sounds like a love story to us. For a little bit of plot point, let's throw in the unrequited love.

We're not talking about one of the subplots from Les Miserables.

No, this is a melodramatic description of the recent sale of the McWhorter Ranch.

The mostly pristine property that is adjacent to Rattlesnake Mountain has been sold to Gamble Land and Timber for $7.6 million.

It's a generous price tag --and fair to both parties.

One that probably could not be matched by any public agency in this economic climate.

For years the state has expressed interest in buying that land. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife had hoped to purchase the acreage to preserve a piece of Eastern Washington's quickly disappearing arid lands shrub steppe -- and the wildlife that makes a home there.

Money has been earmarked for the purchase in the current state budget and it was named as a top spending priority by the state.

We applauded that decision. But can't fault the sale to a private party.

The owners of the property have gone a different route. That's their prerogative. We don't blame them. It sounds like a good business decision.

However, even though the land is not in public ownership, it still is in the public interest.

We have no idea what the new owners have in mind for the property. Maybe they'll leave it as is or ... who knows ... perhaps they will build a tourist resort on it. At one point, there was talk of building a tram from Rattlesnake to Red Mountain. Who knows?

It is now theirs to do with as they see fit.

But if we had a say in the matter, we would wish for:

w Public access to the top of Rattlesnake Mountain.

w Some preservation of the native ecosystem.

Rattlesnake Mountain offers a beautiful view -- from down below and from up on top.

The side of the mountain we see from the Tri-Cities is part of the Hanford Reach National Monument, but the mountain itself is closed to the public as part of the Arid Lands Ecology Reserve.

McWhorter Ranch's 14,135 acres meets the federal lands along the backside of the mountain.

Access to the summit is restricted from most people. In Hanford's early days, it was a matter of security. Now it is a mixed matter of preservation and Native American concerns.

This editorial board was fortunate enough to have been on a tour of that area.

On a clear day from the top of Rattlesnake Mountain you can see all of the Columbia Basin and beyond.

It's breathtaking in a figurative and literal way. The winds are unrelenting on top.

Although we don't own the land, we're interested to see what Gamble Land & Timber has in mind for the ranch. We encourage the company to meet with state officials and look for common ground.