County dedicated to Tollgate plan

Guest Columnist.

King County, the city of North Bend and the Trust for Public Land are partners in what might very well be the final effort to save Tollgate Farm. The alternative to preservation is a proposal to use the land for a 1-million-square-foot office complex with accompanying infrastructure.

I believe that citizens, as partners, must not let this precious open space be lost to development. Working together with the community, King County will begin purchasing Tollgate Farm this summer. The second phase must be completed by The Trust for Public Lands by the end of September. It will then depend upon the citizens of North Bend to complete the protection by preserving the final 30 acres by December 2002.

The Tollgate Farm is a vital link in an amazing environmental corridor connecting 1,200 acres of open space, forested wetlands and healthy wildlife habitat in the Valley. Through publicly owned lands, Tollgate Farm also connects the 94,000-acre Cedar River Watershed, the 180,000-acre Mount Baker Snoqualmie Forest and the 90,000-acre Snoqualmie Tree Farm.

Tollgate Farm also stands as a landmark reminding us of our region’s beginnings. Tollgate Farm was named so because it was used as a OtollgateO from 1884 to 1887. A private company in Ellensburg decided to make a better-quality road from the eastern side of the Cascades to this region. Early settlers who rumbled along in wagons, emerging exhausted from the treacherous trip over Snoqualmie Pass, were relieved to stop at the farm and enjoy the wide-open vista.

But this issue is larger than protecting a piece of history and bigger than protecting the 400 acres. It is not an easy choice when communities are faced with weighing open space vs. development. The promise of new jobs can dull a community’s long-term vision.

Ironically, the consequence of choosing pavement over prairie is a financial headache that never subsides. Communities must weigh the costs of development: infrastructure, transportation needs, damaged or eliminated floodplains, vs. the financial gain from economic growth.

I applaud efforts by the city of North Bend, the Trust for Public Lands and all citizens who have pushed this effort forward. Partnership between public and private groups is what will make this preservation effort work.

This July, King County will make good on its promise to provide an initial investment of $3 million, completing the first phase of this land set-aside. I pledge to support securing significant additional funds for subsequent purchases over the next two years.

But our efforts must not stop there. Preserving open space is a long-term commitment. In the greater Snoqualmie/North Bend area, King County has purchased many parcels as set-asides for open space. We will continue to help. The question is not whether to preserve open space, but rather, what legacy will citizens decide to leave for future generations. The choice here is clear.

Larry Phillips

Metropolitan King County councilman