A proposal by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources would take over 700 acres of school trust lands near Northport off the books and transfer the acreage to a nature preserve program in order to protect what the department calls “unique features” in the area.
The proposed Trombetta Canyon Natural Area Preserve (NAP) would encompass 1,060 acres
of timberland just southeast of Northport, of which 760 acres is currently state trust land.
Around 300 acres of the proposed area is currently in private ownership.
A meeting about the proposed NAP boundary will be held Thursday, Sept.22, 6:30 p.m., at the Northport School lunchroom.
The DNR wants to transfer the state trust lands’ acreage into the NAP to protect a raised limestone cliff formation within the canyon, as well as some limestone-dependent plant species.
DNR Senior Communications Manager Jane Chavey said the department is not currently deriving any money from the land for the state trust, which funds state school construction projects.
“This particular tract of state trust land has not been harvested for a very long time due to access issues that would make it unfeasible to harvest the timber,” said Chavey.
In order to transfer the acreage into the Natural Areas Program, the DNR needs approval from the legislature to essentially “buy” the land from the state trust and place it into the NAP program. The tax dollars spent to move the land from a state trust designation to a nature preserve would then go to buy replacement land for the school trust.
Nature preserve does not mean public access
However, changing the designation to a nature preserve doesn’t guarantee the land would be available for public use.
Since most of the proposed Trombetta Canyon NAP is only accessible across private land, public access would be unlikely until the private ground within the NAP was acquired by the agency. There is currently around 300 acres of private land within the proposed Trombetta Canyon NAP boundary.
A DNR publication on the proposal noted the DNR only buys from “willing sellers at market value.”
“Privately owned lands within the proposed boundary would be acquired at a later time, typically using state-administered grant funds,” the proposal noted on the DNR website www.dnr.wa.gov .
Even if the private acreage was acquired, public access may not be part of the plan.
Chavey said trails for the public could be developed if it didn’t “damage the resources.”
It is likely access would also require one of the new fee-based and controversial Discover Passes.
During the budgetary crunch of last year, legislators decreased funding for state parks, so the DNR, in collaboration with other agencies, chose to pass that loss onto the public by requiring patrons to purchase a $30 annual per-vehicle fee to state parks.
The “Discover Pass” is projected to bring $64 to $72 million every year, of which DNR will receive eight percent.
If the DNR decides not to proceed with the Trombetta Canyon NAP, the agency could theoretically sell the state trust ground on the open market and use the revenue to buy a piece that is more productive. The DNR currently receives 27 percent of the revenue from state trust lands in exchange for their management.
For more information about the Trombetta Canyon Natural Area Preserve, visit www.dnr.wa.gov  and search for “natural areas program.”