BY SARA SCHILLING
Tri-City HeraldThe newest Badger Mountain trail is open after months of work and thousands of hours of volunteer labor. A ceremony is planned at noon Jan. 16 to dedicate the yet-to-be-named trail, which traverses Badger’s southern slope. “The people did this. That’s been true about each of our trails — it’s the people’s mountain and the people’s trail,” said Sharon Grant, a founder of the nonprofit Friends of Badger Mountain, which coordinates construction and maintenance of trails in the Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve. A hiking tour of the trail will follow the dedication ceremony. Work started on the new trail last March, stopping for the summer in May when the ground became too dry. It picked up again last fall. The work involved excavating more than1,000 yards of dirt by hand and moving and laying 290-plus tons of gravel. More than 400 volunteers helped with the trail project, some participating in one-time work parties and others regularly lending a hand. Of those 400 volunteers, five put in about 100 hours or more each, including one volunteer who logged about 250 hours, said Jim Langdon, trailmaster. The new trail is the fourth in the Badger preserve, and it offers a different experience. It’s been described as “rolling” and “gentle” compared with the steeper routes offered by the preserve’s other trails. It runs above an orchard “pretty much the whole length of the trail,” Langdon said. “You’re down low enough that you’re not hearing a lot of highway noise. It has a remote feeling to it.” While the trail doesn’t gain much elevation, its length has surprised some users. It’s 2.5 miles, with an access junction on the west end about a half-mile up the Skyline Trail and on the east end about three-quarters-of-a mile from Trailhead Park off Sagebrush Trail. That means the round-trip is at least six miles, depending on the junction used. So hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders using the new trail should take that into account and “plan your trip” accordingly, Langdon said. The price tag for the new trail came in at about $12,000, with a grant from REI covering the bulk. The Benton County Park Board is taking suggestions for a name for the trail, with a selection potentially to be made next month. The new trail quietly opened in December. Adam Fyall, the county’s sustainable development coordinator, said it’s “a big addition for us at the preserve.” “It’s a good thing for the community,” he said. “It’s another milestone for the county and, I think, a real milestone for Friends of Badger.” The county owns and operates the 650-acre Badger Mountain preserve. It’s the most popular county park and one of the most popular recreation spots in the region, with about 200,000 visits recorded in 2013. The 2014 visit tally hasn’t yet been released, but is expected to be soon. Meanwhile, county officials continue to work on a management and master plan for the preserve. Fyall said he’s hopeful it will be done this year. The county also applied for about $700,000 from the state Recreation and Conservation Office to purchase 200 acres on the nearby Candy Mountain to create a similar preserve. The application received a high ranking, and officials are to learn by this spring whether the money will come through. Friends of Badger Mountain is raising $800,000 to match the grant and pay for trail construction, with the needle currently sitting at $645,000 raised. David Comstock, vice president of the Friends group, said he’s been amazed at the community support. “We started this back in January (2014), and a year later we’re almost to the point where we’ve raised” enough to match the state grant, he said, adding that he encourages people who frequent Badger to consider helping out. “This is for the community’s benefit,” he said. “If you’re enjoying the experience you have on Badger Mountain, then help us create a new park on Candy.” For more about the group and to donate to the Candy Mountain campaign, go towww.friendsofbadger.org.