Kaniksu Trust mounts final push for project

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  • (Photo courtesy FIONA HICKS) A group of friends prepares to do a little exploring in the great outdoors on the property that will become the Pine Street Woods.

  • 1

  • (Photo courtesy FIONA HICKS) A group of friends prepares to do a little exploring in the great outdoors on the property that will become the Pine Street Woods.

  • 1

By DAVID GUNTER

Feature correspondent

SANDPOINT — When a non-profit organization announces that it is working to raise a little more than $2 million for a large-scale project, the response could well be, “Good luck with that.”

But when that organization has already reeled in close to 75 percent of its stated goal and the end result stands to benefit the entire community for generations to come, the reaction changes to, “How do I get on board?”

That scenario is playing out in Bonner County, as the Kaniksu Land Trust rounds the clubhouse turn toward its goal of raising $2.1 million to acquire 160 acres to create what they are calling “a community forest.”

Now just $600,000 shy of that mark, KLT is ramping up its public engagement to share the multiple benefits that such a public space would provide.

The land, owned by Joe Weisz, sits on top of Pine Street hill and overlooks both Sandpoint and Dover. After negotiating with the owner for the past couple years, the group signed a contract to buy the land for $1.8 million, setting aside another $300,000 for stewardship and initial improvements such as an access road, parking area, trails and signage.

Best of all, Pine Street Woods would be set aside as a large, natural space open to the public in perpetuity.

“One of the problems we have in Bonner County with public lands is it’s either Travers Park with its paved walking trails or Scotchman Peaks — and not much in between,” said Eric Grace, executive director for Kaniksu Land Trust.

Ideas like this one take on urgency in an increasingly popular and growing town like ours, as traditionally available outdoor spaces get bought up and developed. Additionally, the opportunity to purchase the hilltop property and designate it as public land forever is a chance to make a lasting statement about who we are and what we believe in.

“Imagine the legacy in the center of our town in 50 years, as the community embraces this space,” said KLT campaign committee member Julie Meyer. “I like to think of it as our own little Golden Gate Park.”

The rolling hills, forested spaces and open meadows that make up the land look, at this stage, like a wide-open canvas waiting for the first brush stroke. A management plan will be created over the next 6-12 months to prioritize activities once the purchase becomes final.

“Because there are almost too many opportunities to process, initially,” said Grace. “I think the trail network would be the first thing to happen.”

At approximately 3.5 miles of trails to start with and more to come, the Pine Street Woods area would intersect with the more mature and larger matrix of hiking and mountain biking trails in the adjacent 120-acre, privately owned Kubiak property — known locally as Sherwood Forest. The latter has grown from a handful of miles of trail to its current 10 miles. Although they share breathtaking views, the main difference between the two, according to campaign committee member Chris Bessler, is the terrain.

“Pine Street Woods is going to be much more of a rolling, mellower walk for people,” he said.

Which, in turn, makes the concept more family friendly and more accessible to older recreationists who love the great outdoors but might prefer an energizing walk to an arduous hike. Toward that end, KLT plans to build trails using a 4-foot-wide track.

“So two people can walk side-by-side and have a conversation — and they’re still in the outdoors doing it,” the executive director said.

Apart from recreation, the project also would have a favorable impact on conservation, education, public health and quality of life, the group members said. On the conservation front, landowner Weisz has thrown his support behind the plan.

“It’s a special place, for sure,” he is quoted as saying in the KLT 2016 annual report. “I’m happy to see that the land trust can take over ownership. I’d like to see it remain open for the deer, elk, moose and other wildlife up there.”

None of this is new to the land trust, which already has purchased 75 acres of wetlands and forest near Clark Fork and another 100 acres of forest and fields in eastern Bonner County. The addition of Pine Street Woods to that mix brings a perfectly located natural classroom for KLT to use in its burgeoning educational outreach programs.

“It’s close to all of the schools and it’s a great place for little people to explore,” said Meyer.

KLT now has a full-time educator, Dave Kretzschmar, working with schools each week, teaching the wonders of the outdoors to children.

“And he’s really excited about this community forest,” said Grace.

Public health could get a boost with the advent of easily accessible public land, according to KLT program and development associate Cami Murray.

“This is a space where people can get walking, get moving,” she said. “And chronic health problems among our youth are increasing, as well. This is a place for kids to get outside.”

With strong individual and business community support, KLT also has had some major employers get behind the Pine Street Woods concept, seeing it as a prime recruitment tool in an already appealing locale.

“It makes this even more of a place where employees want to move,” Grace said.

The near-term goals for the public space include completion of the access road off of Pine Street — near what locals call the “sledding hill” — up to the property, followed by a parking area and, over time, a growing list of well-marked trails that will allow users to walk for as short or as long as they’d like. With 160 acres to utilize, the land trust has no shortage of ideas for how things might look after that.

“But the most important thing will be to get people up there, using it and enjoying it,” the executive director said. “We can fine-tune it from there.”

KLT started with a 2-year window to raise the needed funds. And while the effort has been successful to date, its members remain realistic about the work ahead to pull in the hefty six figures still needed.

“We’re not there yet,” Bessler said. “The push is on to seal the deal.”

“We have amazing momentum and we are close,” added Katie Cox, campaign committee co-chair. “But we need the community to feel the passion. This is something that’s going to benefit our town now and into the future.”

For more information about Kaniksu Land Trust or to donate to the Pine Street Woods project, call 208-263-9471 or visit online at: www.kaniksulandtrust.org

KLT also has a fundraiser planned for this Wednesday, Oct. 4, from 5-8 p.m. at Idaho Pour Authority, located at 203 Cedar St., in Sandpoint. The event will include a showing of “Sasquatch — The Movie,” live music by Marty Perron and Doug Bond, beers from Ecliptic Brewing and a chance to win a 2017-’18 season pass to Ideas like this one take on urgency in an increasingly popular and growing town like ours, as traditionally available outdoor spaces get bought up and developed. Additionally, the opportunity to purchase the hilltop property and designate it as public land forever is a chance to make a lasting statement about who we are and what we believe in.

“Imagine the legacy in the center of our town in 50 years, as the community embraces this space,” said KLT campaign committee member Julie Meyer. “I like to think of it as our own little Golden Gate Park.”

The rolling hills, forested spaces and open meadows that make up the land look, at this stage, like a wide-open canvas waiting for the first brush stroke. A management plan will be created over the next 6-12 months to prioritize activities once the purchase becomes final.

“Because there are almost too many opportunities to process, initially,” said Grace. “I think the trail network would be the first thing to happen.”

At approximately 3.5 miles of trails to start with and more to come, the Pine Street Woods area would intersect with the more mature and larger matrix of hiking and mountain biking trails in the adjacent 120-acre, privately owned Kubiak property — known locally as Sherwood Forest. The latter has grown from a handful of miles of trail to its current 10 miles. Although they share breathtaking views, the main difference between the two, according to campaign committee member Chris Bessler, is the terrain.

“Pine Street Woods is going to be much more of a rolling, mellower walk for people,” he said.

Which, in turn, makes the concept more family friendly and more accessible to older recreationists who love the great outdoors but might prefer an energizing walk to an arduous hike. Toward that end, KLT plans to build trails using a 4-foot-wide track.

“So two people can walk side-by-side and have a conversation — and they’re still in the outdoors doing it,” the executive director said.

Apart from recreation, the project also would have a favorable impact on conservation, education, public health and quality of life, the group members said. On the conservation front, landowner Weisz has thrown his support behind the plan.

“It’s a special place, for sure,” he is quoted as saying in the KLT 2016 annual report. “I’m happy to see that the land trust can take over ownership. I’d like to see it remain open for the deer, elk, moose and other wildlife up there.”

None of this is new to the land trust, which already has purchased 75 acres of wetlands and forest near Clark Fork and another 100 acres of forest and fields in eastern Bonner County. The addition of Pine Street Woods to that mix brings a perfectly located natural classroom for KLT to use in its burgeoning educational outreach programs.

“It’s close to all of the schools and it’s a great place for little people to explore,” said Meyer.

KLT now has a full-time educator, Dave Kretzschmar, working with schools each week, teaching the wonders of the outdoors to children.

“And he’s really excited about this community forest,” said Grace.

Public health could get a boost with the advent of easily accessible public land, according to KLT program and development associate Cami Murray.

“This is a space where people can get walking, get moving,” she said. “And chronic health problems among our youth are increasing, as well. This is a place for kids to get outside.”

With strong individual and business community support, KLT also has had some major employers get behind the Pine Street Woods concept, seeing it as a prime recruitment tool in an already appealing locale.

“It makes this even more of a place where employees want to move,” Grace said.

The near-term goals for the public space include completion of the access road off of Pine Street — near what locals call the “sledding hill” — up to the property, followed by a parking area and, over time, a growing list of well-marked trails that will allow users to walk for as short or as long as they’d like. With 160 acres to utilize, the land trust has no shortage of ideas for how things might look after that.

“But the most important thing will be to get people up there, using it and enjoying it,” the executive director said. “We can fine-tune it from there.”

KLT started with a 2-year window to raise the needed funds. And while the effort has been successful to date, its members remain realistic about the work ahead to pull in the hefty six figures still needed.

“We’re not there yet,” Bessler said. “The push is on to seal the deal.”

“We have amazing momentum and we are close,” added Katie Cox, campaign committee co-chair. “But we need the community to feel the passion. This is something that’s going to benefit our town now and into the future.”

For more information about Kaniksu Land Trust or to donate to the Pine Street Woods project, call 208-263-9471 or visit online at: www.kaniksulandtrust.org

KLT also has a fundraiser planned for this Wednesday, Oct. 4, from 5-8 p.m. at Idaho Pour Authority, located at 203 Cedar St., in Sandpoint. The event will include a showing of “Sasquatch — The Movie,” live music by Marty Perron and Doug Bond, beers from Ecliptic Brewing and a chance to win a 2017-’18 season pass to Schweitzer.

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