County council protects our open spaces

P>Residents of King County are justifiably proud of the reputation as

responsible stewards of the environment. A perfect example of this

Northwest philosophy is demonstrated in the evolution of King County's

Master Plan for the Three Forks Natural Area in the Snoqualmie Valley.

This project began more than a decade ago with the lofty goal of

preserving a natural area of stunning beauty and a rich wildlife habitat

at the confluence of the Snoqualmie River's three forks. Over time,

this simple proposal ballooned into an ambitious development project.

The cost grew proportionally, from the original estimate of $284,000 in

improvements to a staggering $5.2 million.

As the Master Plan crystallized, it became clear the project was

overreaching the intended scope of the work _ by a long shot. Residents

of the area, those most familiar with this environmental treasure, objected to

the increase in development. Revisions were suggested and

incorporated: more focus on restoring vegetation

in riparian zones, less paving and land-clearing for parking spaces and

fewer restrooms. This is, after all, a

"natural area" rather than a "park," a

living room for deer and elk and bobcats and squirrels, where humans are just

invited guests.

Eventually, the King County council did something it has been

criticized for not doing in the past _ we

listened. We listened to the neighbors and to the supporters of the Master Plan.

We listened to hikers, bird-watchers, nature lovers, environmentalists,

outdoor recreation enthusiasts and many others. Concerns about the Master

Plan went far beyond just "not-in-my-back-yard" protectionism. The

broad-based testimony indicated the depth of reflection about how we humans in

the Northwest interact with our environment. Overwhelmingly, they told

us that too much development would spoil this natural gem forever.

The scaled-down Master Plan approved by the council in May

represents the evolution of the project's scope following participation by

all the interested parties, from county staff to environmental activists. It

still leaves the door open to future improvements, if they are deemed

beneficial and not detrimental to the wildlife habitat. The $978,000 cost

saves county taxpayers $4.4 million, while still delivering the public

accessibility that was promised.

The public process on Three Forks was one of the most open and

scrutinized in recent memory, from public meetings in North Bend to

lengthy public testimony and debate before the council. That's exactly the way

it should be for such a vital decision on the use of our open spaces and parks.

King County Councilmembers David Irons and Maggi Fimia

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