Our Voice: Ridges trail plan takes big step thanks to CH2M Hill's gift

Contractors are performing dangerous and daunting work at the Hanford site.

They are also making a lot of money doing it.

Many have done great things in the community as a way of giving back and saying thanks.

The most recent of those gestures comes in the form of a $500,000 pledge from CH2M Hill Plateau Remediation Co. to go toward the creation of a 20-mile trail system across Tri-City area ridges.

The Friends of Badger Mountain want to build a new preserve at Candy Mountain and then a trail from Amon Creek to the Yakima River. The trail would traverse the ridges of Little Badger, Badger, Candy and Red mountains.

To do that, the group says it will need $1.5 million and announced a fundraising campaign along with the announcement of the CH2M Hill donation.

Much of the money would go toward the purchase of 205 acres on Candy Mountain, between Badger and Red mountains. That land is the last major missing piece to create the trail.

The group envisions something similar to the heavily used Badger Mountain preserve and trails at Candy Mountain.

With the assistance of vineyard owners on Red Mountain, the group thinks it has secured a route through land donations, existing trails and easements all the way to the Yakima River.

Benton County plans to ask the state Recreation and Conservation Office for $750,000 to put toward the Candy Mountain purchase, with the Friends of Badger Mountain providing matching funds. The land would belong to the county and the Friends of Badger would build trails and serve as caretakers.

In addition to the dollars, the organization will get an assist from CH2M Hill employees and their families to build the trails.

CH2M Hill's contract expires in 2018 and the company was looking for a community legacy project. Employees were asked for suggestions, and many wanted an outdoor project involving parks, rivers and trails. The timing was perfect for the Ridge Preservation and Trail Campaign fundraiser.

The Friends of Badger had been hoping for more than a decade to put together an extensive ridgeline trail system, and has chipped away at it by reaching out to wineries and vineyards in recent years to spur their interest in providing land. Hike, wine and dine tours have been led by Friends of Badger members.

As evidenced by the amount of foot traffic on the Badger Mountain trails, hiking is a popular activity in Tri-Cities, with more than 200,000 people using the paths last year. Some would say the mountain is overused and too crowded, so new trails on other ridges would be a welcome addition.

In addition to the $500,000 commitment from CH2M Hill, the Friends of Badger said they have quietly raised $280,000 during the past five months. And hikers can scan a QR code at the Badger Mountain trailhead to make donations to the campaign.

Thanks to CH2M Hill and a tireless group with a long-term vision, it's looking like that dream of a multi-ridge trail is a lot closer to becoming a reality.