‘Most expensive’ stretch of trail in Eastern WA will feature sweeping Tri-Cities views
The Friends of Badger Mountain are one step closer to their goal of a continuous trail system stretching from Benton City across the ridges all the way to the Yakima River.
The nonprofit recently bought the last portion of land they needed to create a trail system up Little Badger Mountain, tying together a hiking route to Badger and Candy mountains.
When it opens late next year, it will be the culmination of 20 years of hard work, dedication and love for the Tri-Cities since the group first bought land on Badger Mountain.
Project Manager David Comstock said that while they’re nearing the finish line, there’s still much work to do.
“This is a huge milestone for us, finishing the land acquisition part of the project (for Little Badger Mountain), this is the culmination of about 5 years of volunteer work for the board members of Friends of Badger Mountain,” he said.
“The next phase will be to work with the city of Richland to work out what this future park will look like,” Comstock said.
LITTLE BADGER MOUNTAIN
The group recently bought 21 acres on Little Badger, just below Queensgate Drive, as well as three lots near the summit off of Skyview Loop.
“This is the final land acquisition that we needed to create a continuous trail system from the existing preserve down from Badger to connect to Queensgate,” Comstock said. “From Queensgate we now have all the property across the saddle, gaining access to the ridge top all the way to the summit of Little Badger.”
In all, they spent about $2.5 million acquiring the land needed.
The larger portion cost $1.5 million, which group president Bob Bass said is about what they paid for all 200 acres on Candy Mountain.
“This will probably be the most expensive piece of trail anywhere in Eastern Washington,” Bass said.
In 2003, when the organization first launched, they spent just under $600,000 to preserve 500 acres on Badger Mountain, but growth in the area has led to increased demand for land, and with it higher land prices.
“It’s all about preservation of our sage habitat and preserving public access,” Comstock said. “Ultimately, our goal is not to own the land ourselves, but to preserve it for city parks so they can maintain it for years to come.”
Comstock said Richland recently began the planning process for the new trailhead park, with the location to be determined.
They hope to see planning completed this year, and work beginning on the new Little Badger trail system in 2023.
Comstock and Bass said they didn’t plan to have it completed for the organization’s 20th anniversary, but it is gratifying.
Once work is completed on the Little Badger, they will have created a continuous trail system stretching across the three major ridges. In total it will be about 10 miles across, with several more miles of trail within each preserve area.
Then they will turn their attention to partnerships with Benton City and the Tapteal Greenway.
“After completing Badger Mountain, the friends stepped back and did some strategic planning, and our goal has been a 20-mile ridge trail that will connect Little Badger to Badger to Candy to Red Mountain all the way down to the Yakima River,” Comstock said.
“The mayor of Benton City has been getting some Washington state grant money to look at some rails to trails projects,” he said.
“They’re trying to buy that old railroad ridge coming out of Benton City and have a rails to trails connection, and then our sister organization Tapteal Greenway is working on a river trail along the Yakima River to connect from basically Benton City back into town and out to the Yakima River delta,” he said.
Comstock said that the organization is made up of people who live in the Tri-Cities and love the area, and many are avid hikers.
They put in about 2,000 hours of volunteer work each year, as well as raise money for maintenance and expansion of the trails.
Through partnerships with cities and developers, they’ve been able to create beautiful, public trail systems to bring people to the Tri-Cities.
A 2019 estimate put the combined number of visitors to their trails at more than 300,000 annually.
“The big vision is to have a 50-mile river to ridges to rail system to help make the Tri-Cities more of an outdoors destination,” Comstock said.