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County plans Three Forks Natural Area

SNOQUALMIE_If the King County Department of Parks and

Recreation has its way, the Three Forks area on the northeast fringe

of Snoqualmie will receive the benefits of over $5 million dollars in

planning and improvements.

According to Connie Zimmerman, project manager for the county's

Department of Construction and Facility Management, the goal is to

enhance Three Forks while providing safety features and improved services

for visitors. The plan would achieve this through trails for pedestrians,

bicycle and equestrian users, along with viewpoints and other enhancements.

A group of Valley residents, however, are not happy with the

proposal and question the intent of the project, its impact on wildlife in the

vicinity and, above all, the amount of funding. They maintain you can't take a

"natural area" and improve it

Zimmerman made her presentation on the Three Forks area at a

meeting of the Snoqualmie Parks Board on Wednesday, Nov. 17. Members of

the city's Planning Commission and Shoreline Hearings Board also

attended at the invitation of Snoqualmie Mayor R. "Fuzzy"

Fletcher. Zimmerman stated the project _ which started about six years ago _

features a main pedestrian and equestrian trail alongside Reinig Road. The

Master plan also calls for the retention of a 300-foot wildlife corridor along

the south side of the property, while providing limited water access points

and overlooks throughout the area. It also specifies six parking areas ranging

in size from five to 20 slots each.

"We looked at how people use the area now," she commented. "We

see this is an important objective, to provide safety and services such as

parking areas, viewpoints to observe the marsh areas, and also provide

access to the confluence of the North and Middle Forks."

Speaking from the floor, Paul Carkeek _ who serves as a

consultant to the Three Forks Natural Recreation Area Preservation Committee,

the leading group in opposition to the plan _ keyed on the appropriateness of

the budget items specified for the area.

"Why are we spending $5 million if this is only a `minimal touch?'"

he queried. "In what way does spending that money benefit the area?

"My feeling is that the natural area requires time, and throwing $5

million at it isn't going to make it any better. I'm just startled by the cost

and the push."

In a letter to the county Utilities and Natural Resources

Committee, Mayor Fletcher also raised some concerns, primarily over who will

assume management responsibility for the completed natural area. City staff

indicated Snoqualmie will formally respond to the county on the

proposal in early December and will include its own recommendations for the project.

For Carkeek and preservation committee chair Wenda

Miller-Cassman, the question remains the impact on wildlife and what they

perceive as an unwise expenditure of public funds.

"They call this a `light touch,' but the net effect will be deleterious

to wildlife," Carkeek commented before the meeting. "The problem I can

see is you've got some pretty sensitive wildlife in there."

"We feel if they should be spending money on anything, it should

be for wildlife stewardship," Miller-Cassman said, adding, "The

problem here is this: Someone has spent a lot of time and energy developing

this master plan, and their jobs are hanging on it.

"When people come in, nature leaves. I know we have

community support, but it'd be nice if the community would speak up, and let

King County know we want this area left alone."

King County staffer and current North Bend councilman Mark

Sollitto was one of the early proponents of the Three Forks area. He remains a

strong supporter.

"In 1985 I went over to the parks system as a capital improvement

coordinator, the guy who was responsible for making recommendations

on what land to buy and what parks to fix," he commented Monday. "I

read of the potential values of the site as being the confluence of the single

biggest river system in the county, and it interested me.

"I was really impressed with the unique view, its riparian character,

and its unique location between three large groups of open areas. It appeared

to me it would be important for the public, in an appropriate way, to

access the area and learn of its important character, while remaining respectful."

Sollitto disagrees with comments that the entire project has been

studied and funded on something of a "stealth" basis, without adequate

public comment.

"Early on we had a number of meetings at Snoqualmie

Middle School, where we laid out a number of ideas," he responded. "I thought

we achieved a consensus. I'm not sure some of the opponents to the plan

lived in the area at that time."

According to Bud Parker, Zimmerman's supervisor, the

goal now is to confirm funding for the next phase of the project and get

King County Council approval.

"We're hoping to get it there (to council) this week or the

following week," he stated Monday.

"Unless something happens, I expect we'll get

approval.

"The basic thing is this: We're not doing much. It's a beautiful,

natural site, and we intend to keep it that way."

Copies of the Three Forks Natural Area Master Plan are available at

King County library branches. For more information on the project,

contact Parker at (206) 296-4151, or Lynn Lewicki at (206) 296-0648.

For information on the Three Forks Natural Area Preservation

Committee, call Miller-Cassman at (425) 831-1747. She advises

contributions towards the committee's activities

may be left at Isadora's, on Railroad Avenue in Snoqualmie.

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