Our Voice: It will take a joint effort to extend Badger trails

The lure of spring weather is drawing more of us outdoors.

That means more hikers on area trails, especially the exceedingly popular Badger Mountain system.

The Friends of Badger Mountain have done a great job expanding the trail system there, and have big visions to continue the hiking opportunities onto nearby ridges.

One they have in their sights is Candy Mountain. So far the group has raised nearly $750,000 of the $1.5 million it needs to buy 205 acres between Badger and Candy mountains. It is also hoping for a grant of just under $700,000 from the state Recreation and Conservation Office. If that comes through, they should be able to come up with the additional dollars to complete the deal by summer.

One local developer was hoping to sweeten the hiking picture by swapping some prime Candy Mountain land with the Friends of Badger.

Kerry Watts is looking to develop 46 acres at the base of the mountain. He’d like to trade 7.3 acres he owns higher up on the hill with the Friends of Badger when they get the land. He says it would be a perfect spot to put in a trailhead and he’ll kick in another 11.5 acres to make room for a parking lot and restroom.

He’d build 40 more lots in the Candy Mountain Estates subdivision if the deal could be done. Beyond altruism, Watts would be able to connect utilities between land he owns on both sides, which should produce some cost savings. And he’d be able to build more houses.

But West Richland’s urban growth area puts a wrench in the proposal. The property the developer wants is outside the boundaries. City utilities can’t be used for land outside the lines.

One of the major challenges with the Growth Management Act is that it can only be revised once every five years. And West Richland’s was just amended to bring the former Tri-City Raceway into its urban growth area last year. That would mean the earliest the city could apply for the change for the Candy Mountain property would be 2018, and then a decision by county commissioners would follow in late 2019.

That’s a long time to wait for a developer itching to build in a booming market. Watts said he’d like to see the Legislature change the limiting law, but many others have tried and failed. Even if he can’t build on the land, he’d still like to do the swap so he can run utility lines across the property to get to lots within the city’s urban growth area.

And while the Friends of Badger can see the merit of the land trade, its goal is to complete the purchase of the 205 acres they are after. It would be nice to have the land Watts is offering higher up the mountain, but it won’t thwart their plans if it doesn’t happen. They aren’t taking an active role in advocating for the land. For them, it’s not a deal-breaker.

Neither is it for developer Watts, who has drawings showing the hill covered with houses if the group doesn’t meet their fund-raising goal. But he says he’d rather see the Friends of Badger get the land. Let’s hope the state comes through with the grant the Friends of Badger needs so at least that piece of the puzzle is protected. Then if a trade seems prudent, the two can talk.