A proposed Pierce County purchase of a two 10-acre forested parcels south of Buckley could give residents access to a forest preserve larger than all but one of the county’s parks.
The County Council last week gave its informal approval to allow the county to proceed with acquiring two sites adjacent to the county-owned Buckley Forest Preserve.
With the parcels included, the preserve will total some 220 acres. That’s larger than the county’s Spanaway Lake Park (135 acres), but smaller than Chambers Creek Regional Park (930 acres).
The county bought the forest preserve four years ago from Plum Creek Timber Co. to serve the recreational needs of residents and to save the land from development in fast-growing East Pierce County.
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The preserve is between Buckley and Wilkeson east of state Route 162.
The forested area remains as it was when the county bought it, said Tony Tipton, the county’s parks director. The land is criss-crossed with rudimentary trails used for hiking and horseback riding.
The tract is accessible only by a private gravel road on which the county has an easement.
If the county buys the 20 acres on the northern side of the preserve, public access will shift to that side of the park via a public road.
Tipton said that access would help the county meet objections of residents along the existing access road, who have complained about traffic and the lack of a parking area.
The present owners of the two parcels, a family who inherited the tract, has used the land for decades for riding and recreation. The family has owned the land since shortly after World War II.
Jordan Rash, conservation director for Forterra, a nonprofit land conservation and urban design organization, said Forterra and the county have been working together to arrange the purchase.
Forterra also has bought development rights to a 64-acre farm north of the forest preserve to ensure the land won’t be turned into a housing tract.
The family who owns the 20 acres had been approached by timber concerns and developers who wanted to harvest the 60-year-old trees on the tract. The family said it preferred to ensure the land remains forested and available for public use, Rash said.
The landowners told Forterra they are willing to sell the land for its assessed value, $147,000. That figure might be less than they could sell it for on the open market, he said.
County Council members at a Tuesday study session expressed support for the proposed purchase. County Councilwoman Pam Roach said she wants to ensure that the family is fairly paid for the land.
The county plans to commission an appraisal of the land before it brings the deal to the council for approval.
While the purchase is not in the county’s 2017 budget, several means to accomplish it are available.
Forterra could buy the land and hold it for the county until the county can apply for grants or budget for its purchase. Or the county could use part of its contingency fund set aside for unanticipated expenses.
Pierce County could seek a Conservation Futures grant to pay the acquisition cost. Conservation Futures funds are raised through a tax on real estate transactions.
Or the county could amend its recently adopted 2017 budget to reallocate funds for the purchase.
County Council Chairman Doug Richardson said he favors asking Forterra to buy and hold the property to allow the county time to raise the acquisition funds.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663