In the News

Trail Blazer – Badger Mountain is a peak performance

Hikers used to the likes of trails on Mount Rainier or Mount Adams might consider Benton County's Badger Mountain more of a molehill than a mountain. Yet many Tri-Cities residents are enjoying a "peak" outdoor experience on the 1,580-foot summit, which only recently was opened to general public use. The 1.1-mile trail constructed last year leads through the 574-acre Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve to a broad vista point. Spread below the summit are the broad waters of the Columbia River as well as its major tributaries, the Yakima and Snake rivers. Nearby Richland and Kennewick are easily seen along with Pasco, somewhat more distant. On clear days, look for snow-capped Cascade peaks such as Mount Rainier, Mount Adams and Mount Hood. Gaze east to the Blue Mountains. Contrasting with the residential and commercial development lapping at the flanks of Badger Mountain are farms and undeveloped lands to the south and west. The views bring many of the visitors to the summit, but that's not the only reason to travel the Badger Mountain Trail, according to Mark Hoza, who co-chaired the effort to have the land purchased and opened to the public for hiking. "It gives you the chance to kind of get out of the city without really leaving it," Hoza said. An added bonus is the physical exercise it provides. Although the distance is rather short, the grade is fairly stiff and, Hoza said, provides hikers with "a good, healthy workout." The impetus for purchasing the land resulted from hikers losing access to the hilltops near the Tri-Cities, Hoza explained. He and other members of the recreation group known as IMAC had traditionally done a New Year's hike up the slopes of Badger Mountain for some 50 years. But a few years ago the group was told to stay off the privately-owned peak. So the hikers switched to nearby Red Mountain, where they were eventually deterred by objections from a private landowner. "That got people fired up," Hoza said. "We decided to do something to ensure we could hike on the nearby ridges." After investigating different means of gaining such access, it was decided to pursue the purchase of the 574-acre Badger Mountain property. State and local monies were obtained to cover the $685,000 purchase price of the property, which includes most of the summit and the north-facing slopes and much of the south-facing slopes. Construction of the 1.1-mile trail up Badger Mountain was largely accomplished in a joint work day with the Washington Trails Association. Eighty-two volunteers participated, digging out trail and covering much of it with gravel. Numerous "scratch trails" already existed on the Badger Mountain slopes, but these were just social trails which led to erosion of the hillsides, Hoza said. The single trail established last year was designed to accommodate a large number of hikers and prevent the types of erosion problems common to previous trails. Benton County is working on a master plan for the property which will address issues involving additional trail development, as well as the types of use that will be allowed on these trails, Hoza said. He noted that an additional segment of trail allowing a loop hike is one development being pursued. It is hoped that the plan will be completed by the end of summer. Work on the one trail up Badger Mountain is continuing to widen the tread, but volunteers are showing up on weekdays because so many people are on the trail weekends. The volunteer effort and future projects are being conducted through a group known as the Friends of Badger Mountain. Hoza, vice president of the group, said the organization is still small but should grow as it reaches out to the community for support. Hoza said the same people who prompted the effort to preserve Badger Mountain from development are also interested in preserving other nearby ridges such as Candy Mountain and Red Mountain. This is an excellent time of year to hike the Badger Mountain Trail since spring wildflowers tend to bloom in April and May. Grasses on the peak's slopes also add a touch of vibrant green to the hillsides. Given the trail's brief distance, a hike up Badger Mountain only takes an hour or so. So it works for a Sunday afternoon or even a summer evening outing. You can combine it with a trip to the REI store in Kennewick or investigate some of the paved pathways in the Tri-Cities. These routes offer locations for walking or biking. We discovered the Badger Mountain Community Park along Keene Road, which offers picnicking facilities, playground equipment for kids and access to a paved trail. The park is not far from the trailhead for the Badger Mountain Trail, a drive of some 70 miles from Yakima. A few switchbacks take you uphill and then the route leads into a gully. The tread crosses the head of the gully and angles up a side hill before turning again and crossing a hilltop. Then the trail descends slightly and bends to head directly toward Badger Mountain and the various communication towers which pepper its summit. Here you see first-hand the kind of erosion problem Hoza previously described. A deep trough leads straight up the peak and ribbon closes off this badly eroded route. Instead the trail makes a long switchback, taking you to the top. At the time of our visit the upper terminus of the trail was not only marked by a small sign, but also a pile of gravel and a stack of wheelbarrows. We followed road tracks past one of the towers and then looked south over the farm country and undeveloped lands, which offer a pleasing contrast to the extensive development to the east of Badger Mountain. Hikers could perch here and enjoy a snack while taking in the marvelous views. It is not necessary to reach the top of the peak to enjoy vistas. Even the lower hilltop gives visitors great panoramas of the features in and around the Tri-Cities. * Ron Graham, an elementary school teacher and native of the Yakima Valley, is an avid outdoorsman who has hiked throughout the Pacific Northwest. If you go What: Badger Mountain. Where: Near Richland in Benton County. How: From Interstate 82, take Highway 182 toward Richland. Turn off at exit 13 (West Richland) and head south on Queensgate Drive. Then take a left on Keene Road before turning right on Shockley Road. Drive uphill through residential developments to the road's end and park on the side. Walk directly toward the hill (mountain) and you'll find the trailhead sign. What to remember: Take your time since the trail is fairly steep and carry water. Sunscreen and a hat are recommended. An early start would be better, especially as summer starts, and be aware that you may encounter rattlesnake on the hillsides.

Benton OKs turning land into preserve

Hikers and nature enthusiasts can stop worrying about houses replacing the trails and shrub-steppe habitat on Badger Mountain bordering the southwestern edge of the Tri-Cities. Benton County commissioners voted 2-1 Wednesday to set aside 574 acres along the crest and slopes of the mountain to preserve its "recreational, ecological and aesthetic values." Commissioner Max Benitz Jr. voted against the measure, saying he was concerned about the loss of property tax revenue. "Our skylines are disappearing," said commission Chairman Claude Oliver. "It's a community statement preserving the hillside from having houses go all the way up." The Badger Mountain Centennial Preserve, as the proposed nature area had been named, has been purchased by a coalition of public and private interests from Badger Inc. for about $685,000. Badger Inc. is owned by Sheldon Shore of Pasco and a couple of other partners. The preserve will be managed by the county. The state Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council, which gives money for environmental preservation, contributed $485,000 to the purchase. Friends of Badger Mountain, a volunteer group formed by hikers, raised $75,000. The city of Richland contributed $100,000, while Benton County gave $25,000. About 20 people attended the meeting Wednesday and applauded the commission's action. Many were members of the Friends of Badger Mountain, which has worked for more than two years to preserve parts of Badger Mountain. "The Friends of Badger Mountain are delighted," said Mark Hoza, a group member. Friends members started the organization to preserve traditional hiking areas they felt were being encroached upon by housing developments. A steady housing market has resulted in more and more houses creeping up the ridges of Badger and Red mountains. But Benitz said he was concerned about property tax revenue lost by turning private property into a public preserve. He estimated the amount lost annually to be about $2,544, plus costs to control noxious weeds and maintain fire protection and law enforcement. He also said he believed the price of the land was too high. Benitz suggested putting the issue on the November ballot to let voters decide whether the land should become a public preserve. But Commissioner Leo Bowman said the process had been started by a citizens group and had gone through a public process. "The public has had lots of time for input, and I don't ever recall anyone coming forward and saying, 'No,' " he said. Oliver also said he believed Shore could have subdivided the property and sold each lot separately, earning far more than $685,000 with the view from the ridges. He also said he believed tourism, wineries and other events in the county would make up for the lost revenue. The sale of the property should be completed this month.

Friendly Preservation

Friends of Badger Mountain are approaching preservation in a model way: Identify a community concern, find a willing land owner, get diverse groups involved and gather grassroots support. And Friends is tackling it in short order. Last month, the group of Tri-City hiking enthusiasts announced it had negotiated an agreement to buy 574 acres on the crest and slopes of Badger Mountain now owned by Sheldon Shore of Pasco and a couple of other partners. Preservation of open spaces has been a growing concern during the recent Tri-City building boom, as neighborhoods in Richland and Pasco showed last year when they mobilized to oppose proposed sales of publicly owned land. Now, local conservationists are working with The Trust for Public Land to collect the $700,000 necessary to buy the Badger Mountain property. Friends of Badger Mountain is hoping to show local support for the project by raising $75,000 from local individuals and businesses by Dec. 15. That's a tall order for a volunteer group that is less than two years old. But as of Friday, the group had raised well over $40,000. (To donate, e-mail [email protected] or call 375-5705.) Indeed, the Badger Mountain group has a big circle of friends. With assistance in some form or another from the city of Richland, Benton County, Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Lower Columbia Basin Audubon Society and the Tri-Cities Visitor and Convention Bureau, there is a diverse set of partners pursuing the project. Add the state's Energy Facility Site Evaluation Council to that list. Last year, Bonneville Power Administration gave the council $3.5 million in exchange for the lifting of a requirement that land beneath two unfinished nuclear power plants north of Richland be returned to its original condition. BPA now has until 2029 to partially restore the site, and the state has money to spend on preserving shrub steppe in and around Benton County. When a potential land purchase elsewhere in Benton County fell through, the energy council began looking more seriously at Badger Mountain. The council could end up being a big donor to the project. If so, preservation of a piece of Badger Mountain would be, in a roundabout way, a legacy of the Washington Public Power Supply System debacle that left the nuclear plants unfinished. Friends of Badger Mountain might end up with another ingredient for a successful project: A great story to tell.