SANDPOINT – From the outside, the funding for the Pine Street Woods project seems to have fallen into place as if by magic. Seen from inside, however, one realizes that the concept of a “community forest” and the work to bring the project home has been in play for nearly a decade.
“It’s hard for me to believe, after close to 10 years, that Kaniksu Land Trust finally owns this property,” said KLT conservation director Regan Plumb. “I feel like the forward has been written and now we’re starting Chapter 1.”
Located less than 2 miles from downtown Sandpoint, the Pine Street Woods will be designed to fulfill the land trust’s plan of earmarking the acreage for recreation, education and public health, with an accessible trail system that can be used by all ages and levels of physical ability.
The 160-acre project was announced in late summer of 2017, meaning that, on the surface, the organization managed to clear its fundraising goal of $2.1 million in a little more than 18 months. That window, according to KLT board president Jim Zuberbuhler, was only the public phase. About half of the needed funds already had been raised before the announcement was made.
“That was intentional on our part,” Zuberbuhler said. “We didn’t want to go public until we had momentum.”
With this month’s news that the parcel has been secured, the KLT Capital Campaign Committee officially passed the torch to the Implementation Committee, which now begins the task of upgrading the access road just off of the Pine Street Loop, building a parking lot, creating signage and beginning the work on a trail network that soon will offer some 3.5 miles of hiking and biking trails.
“The hope is that initial infrastructure development will take place in the next six weeks,” said Plumb.
The land, formerly 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, access, parking and trails.
One year after announcing the plan, KLT put a cherry on top when it shared that an adjacent 20 acres had been donated by L.E. Krause, a widower whose grandparents homesteaded the property.
The resulting 180-acre property intersects naturally with the neighboring acreage owned by the Kubiak family and known by local mountain bikers and hikers as Sherwood Forest. Since the Kubiaks allowed public access to their land, the trail network has grown to feature more than 10 miles of biking and hiking options. The main difference between the two is that Pine Street Woods will offer less difficult hiking terrain with wide trails that allow walkers to stroll side-by-side through nature.
Those who wish to explore both trail networks will be able to access Sherwood Forest via a link that likely will be located on the Little John’s Loop trail section that runs along the property line between the two areas. Taken together, the neighboring properties will offer approximately 322 acres with public access, according to KLT.
“That’s a little more than half the size of Central Park,” Zuberbuhler pointed out, adding that the Pine Street Woods could help define the community going forward. “A couple of generations from now, this will be such a part of the fabric of our community that people won’t be able to imagine Sandpoint without it.”
The importance of such a large, public space was not lost on KLT campaign committee member Julie Meyer, who listed another famous park as an example.
“Imagine the legacy in the center of our town in 50 years, as the community embraces this space,” she said in an earlier interview. “I like to think of it as our own little Golden Gate Park.”
Having both the Pine Street Woods and Sherwood Forest options available to the public will mean that all levels of physical activity can be satisfied. Where access to the heart of the Sherwood Forest trail system requires varying degrees of climbs for hikers and bikers, those who want to walk the Pine Street Woods will be able to drive to the top of the hill, get out and jump right into a hike.
In winter, trails will be maintained for use by cross-country skiers and snowshoers. Just as it has partnered with the Pend Oreille Pedalers to enhance biking and hiking opportunities, KLT has teamed up with the Sandpoint Nordic Club to explore funding options for creating similar access in winter.
After noting that a portion of the trails will include ADA access, Plumb was asked how much the vision for the property had changed since it was first announced.
“I don’t think it has changed, but it has become richer over time as we hear new voices,” she said. “What we’ve come up with is a place where every community member can enjoy the trails and be outside.”
Beyond recreation, Pine Street Woods will be designed to enhance education. To that end, KLT plans to include a timber frame education center – with plans to build that structure starting next year – as a home for educational outreach.
“Education has been a strong component of this project from the beginning,” Plumb said. “Kaniksu Land Trust is primarily devoted to land conservation, but we see this kind of outreach as a tool to connect people more directly to the land.”
And with more than 80 percent of Lake Pend Oreille School District students located within a 15-minute bus ride, the group expects school field trips to be a robust part of the activity schedule. In fact, education already has surfaced as a popular aspect of the project, with some 2,700 “participant days” with LPOSD students racked up this school year, plus an afternoon wildcrafting program that also draws a crowd.
“It’s worth mentioning that we also want to support public education for adults,” Plumb said, adding that wildcrafting and forestry management classes are in the planning stages.
“And we expect new things to pop up that we haven’t had on our radar,” said Zuberbuhler.
The third point on the Pine Street Woods triangle will be crafting a forest management plan for the acreage.
“It is a working forest, so we will continue to manage it for forest health and sustainability,” Plumb said.
Part of the KLT charter calls for the organization to manage and protect the land that falls under its responsibility “for perpetuity.”
“You don’t get many chances to work on a project that has the word ‘perpetuity’ attached to it,” Zuberbuhler said.
For those of us who weren’t in the trenches a decade ago when discussions first started, the Pine Street Woods appears to have come together at warp speed. Before too many months have passed, easy access, public parking – even rest rooms – will be in place as part of the trail system. This positive outcome is the result of hard work combined with a project that has proven widely popular and almost universally attractive to the community it will serve.
According to Zuberbuhler, the plans for creating public access to recreation near the top of the Pine Street Hill have been charmed from the onset.
“The stars have been aligned for this project from the very beginning,” he said.
For more information about Kaniksu Land Trust or the Pine Street Woods project, call 208-263-9471 or go online to kaniksulandtrust.org.