Pine Street Woods opens to community

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  • (Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER) Kaniksu Land Trust officials, donors, Pine Street Woods volunteers and local youth work to cut a “ribbon” of native plants, grasses and flowers during Saturday’s grand opening celebration.

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    (Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER) A family walks through the meadow as they explore the Pine Street Woods during Saturday’s grand opening celebration as the 180-acre property officially opened to the community.

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  • (Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER) Kaniksu Land Trust officials, donors, Pine Street Woods volunteers and local youth work to cut a “ribbon” of native plants, grasses and flowers during Saturday’s grand opening celebration.

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    (Photo by CAROLINE LOBSINGER) A family walks through the meadow as they explore the Pine Street Woods during Saturday’s grand opening celebration as the 180-acre property officially opened to the community.

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SANDPOINT — Henry David Thoreau once said, “All good things are wild and free,” Kaniksu Land Trust board president Jim Zuberbuhler told the crowd gathered for a Friday reception to make the grand opening of the Pine Street Woods the following day.

“We appreciate what Thoreau was trying to say 175 years ago and, starting tomorrow, our Pine Street Woods will be wild and free to the public,” he told those gathered. “That said, creating Pine Street Woods was certainly not free, though it was occasionally a bit wild.”

Like many great enterprises, Kaniksu Land Trust officials said the woods started as an idea. In 2012, former executive director Eric Grace, Zuberbuhler and fellow KLT board members Kyler Wolf and Nate Hall attended the Land Trust Alliance meeting in Salt Lake City. The quartet were struck by the potential value of creating projects that would directly benefit the community. That meant transforming the organization into a community-based land trust.

“Back in 2012 we made the shift as an organization to being a community conservation organization,” Zuberbuhler said. “We still do easement work and conserving land but we made the big shift and Pine Streets Woods was really the embodiment of that. We really wanted to help people reconnect with the land.”

Over the next few years, the idea continued to evolve and take shape and, by 2016, Julie Meyer and Susie Kubiak and the Equinox Foundation as well as the LOR Foundation had donated a combined $1.1 million toward creating a community forest. Later that year, the land trust negotiated the purchase of a 160-acre site with the Wiesz family. Next, a capital campaign was launched and, in 2017, the group announced it needed a total of $2.1 million to purchase the site.

By the time 2017 was half over, L.E. Krause donated 20 acres that had been homesteaded by his grandparents 100 years ago; the U.S. Forest Service awarded a $400,000 Community Forest grant; and Clint and Molly Frank of Middle Fork River Tours donated a full rafting trip, which allowed KLT to leverage contributions to the project. In addition, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation awarded KLT a $100,000 grant; Idaho Forest Group donated $150,000; and more than 150 individuals had donated a combined $275,000. Last fall, the first-ever Squatchfest brought the campaign to just under $2.15 million — $50,000 over goal.

Six months ago, the land trust officially bought the property, setting in motion a mad dash to create infrastructure, including roads, start construction of the nordic/recreation center, and officially open the forest to the community.

To see so many people walking the trails, riding their mountain bikes and children playing in the meadow as the Pine Street Woods opened to the community on Saturday was amazing, Kaniksu Land Trust officials said.

“Thank you to everyone in the community for making this happen so our children and their children and their children after that will be able to look around this whole space and see the exact same thing today that their children will see in the years to come,” executive director Katie Egland Cox told the hundreds gathered to celebrate the grand opening.

She told those gathered the land trust has three parts to its focus — conservation, education and recreation.

“As we talked about community conservation, the basis of it is conservation and then after that, there’s this amazing program if you have a child in the presence of Dave (Kretzschmar), I call him our Pied Piper of Nature and Recreation, you know just what that means to our children, connecting them to the earth and giving the experience of being outside.”

“So we have conservation, education and as you can see today, with all the trails, recreation.”

Looking around and talking to those who attended any number of events held Saturday or came to enjoy the woods, Zuberbuhler said the word gratitude came to mind.

“My purpose today is to attempt to convey the immense sense of gratitude that so many of us feel for the support our community has provided in the creation of the Pine Street Woods,” he said.

In addition to those who donated or awarded grants, Zuberbuhler said thanks are owed to the land trust’s board of directors and its staff.

When the switch was made to becoming a community-based organization, it wasn’t an easy decision and when the decision was made to pursue the Pine Street Woods, it came with a certain amount of financial risk. “I’m really proud of them,” Zuberbuhler added.

And the organization’s staff worked hard to implement the vision, from Grace, Regan Plumb, and Ann Mitchell to Kretzschmar, Cami Murray and Cox. They also are owed a debt of gratitude for all they achieved, he said.

“Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons and Pine Street Woods,” Zuberbuhler said, noting he took slight liberty with the former president and conservationist’s comment. “And our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred.”

Sandpoint Mayor Shelby Rognstad said he was honored to be at the grand opening and celebrate such a special occasion.

“There’s actually a lot of things about the Pine Street Woods project that really exemplify and define our community,” Rognstad told the crowd. “One of those is the obvious, our deep appreciation and value for the natural world, for recreation, for quality of life. This creates such a tremendous opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors in so many different ways. Four seasons a year, young and old, this is really is an incredible community asset, not just for our children and our grandchildren, but into perpetuity.”

The project demonstrates the community’s philanthropic spirit, he noted, adding city officials were happy to play a part, granting the Sandpoint Nordic Club, which is working in partnership with the land trust, a $117,000 Blue Cross of Idaho Foundation grant to build a recreation center at Pine Street Woods. The project also exemplifies the community’s innovative spirit, showing what is possible to achieve.

“Kaniksu Land Trust is redefining what it means to be a community-driven land trust, what a community-driven land trust even is,” he said. “They are turning new ground here and they are not just creating lands in our community to be preserved for conservation, they are supporting education, and they are building community through projects like this.”

To see so many people on the site, to see the woods a reality, Plumb, the land trust’s conservation director, said it brought to mind what conservation means to her.

“I’ve come up with a very simple definition,” she said. “Conservation means taking very good care of something so it lasts for a very long time.”

For some, that means taking good care of their animals, their cars or their relationships. For some kids, she joked, it means taking care of their Halloween candy. As the community grows and changes, that means taking care of the rural landscapes and the stories they hold.

“Finally I think about taking good care of our community because I want Sandpoint to last a very long time,” she said. “It’s going through a lot of changes and it needs to be strong and resilient so it can maintain its true self. And I think about the children of Sandpoint and taking care of them because they’re our future. For me, Pine Street Woods represents all of those things — taking care of our landscape, protecting a special place, an open forest, clean water, giving something to our community and to our children. Because of that it really embodies a lot of things.

“I really believe if we take care of this special place right here, that it will help take care of us as well.”

Before cutting a thick “ribbon” of native plants, grasses and flowers found on the property, land trust officials noted the role that its partners — Sandpoint Nordic Club, Pend Oreille Pedalers and the Monday Hikers — played in the woods and all that it has become and will continue to grow toward in the future.

The great preservationist Theodore Roosevelt said, “Of all the questions which can come before this nation, short of the actual preservation of its existence in a great war, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us,” Zuberbuhler said in prepared remarks. “I think all of us are here today because we believe this is true.”

Caroline Lobsinger can be reached by email at clobsinger@bonnercountydailybee.com and follow her on Twitter @CarolDailyBee.

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