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Future use of WSU forest tough to see through trees

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By Teresa Herriman

The Courier-Herald

Washington State University and Weyerhaeuser Company have agreed to return the 147-acre property in the middle of the city of Bonney Lake to Weyerhaeuser. The property houses the university's Demonstration Forest and 4-H Challenge Program.

Under the terms of the proposal, Weyerhaeuser will sell the property fronting state Route 410 for commercial and residential development. A portion of the land could possibly be developed as a park.

In exchange for the property, Weyerhaeuser intends to deed a 104-parcel of land located near Black Diamond to the university for a new rope challenge course and facilities, replicating the Bonney Lake course.

Weyerhaeuser would also make a large donation to the university. According to school officials, WSU would receive half the proceeds of the sale of the land, less the cost of creating a new Challenge Course in King County. The cost of changing the zoning will also be deducted from the donation.

"It's really a good deal for WSU all around," vice president of business affairs Mel Taylor said. "We will end up with a brand new course with all the amenities."

The announcement was the first confirmation Bonney Lake Mayor Bob Young had received regarding an agreement between WSU and Weyerhaeuser.

"We have had absolutely no official communication between WSU and Bonney Lake," Young said.

The Demonstration Forest is bordered by state Route 410 on the north, 214th Street on the east and South Prairie Road; much of the property sits behind commercial developments along the highway.

The Demonstration Forest was donated to Washington State University in 1942 by Weyerhaeuser with the stipulation the forest would be used as a living classroom for youth-oriented education programs. If the university no longer wishes to use the land for youth-educational purposes, the property will revert back to Weyerhaeuser ownership.

For more than 60 years, the WSU Cooperative Extension has managed the forest and the program.

"I don't know what it will mean to the city," Young said of the deal.

However, commercial and residential development will help build Bonney Lake's tax base.

"Bonney Lake is very fortunate. We have developed this tax base along the highway," he said. "This will provide a tax base for the citizens to keep taxes reasonable."

A stable tax base is not the only advantage the mayor sees for Bonney Lake.

"I've insisted all along we should get a park out of that," he said. "We'll see what happens."

If the land is sold for what the university feels it is worth, the resulting donation will be the largest in WSU's history.

The money will be used to fund a number of non-appropriated programs, Taylor said.

The money will go into the general fund, however, the school already has a list of 200 priorities that will be considered for funding, Taylor said.

One of those programs Taylor said, will be a second challenge course. A portion of the donation will be used to fund a course on an undeveloped property in Thurston County, he said.

The proposal still needs to be approved by WSU's board of regents. The next regents' meeting is scheduled for Nov. 19.

"Now we begin the process," Young said.

That process includes Weyerhaeuser's application for a non-city initiated change to Bonney Lake's comprehensive plan. They will have until April 30, 2005, to apply. If they miss that deadline, the city will not be accepting applications again until 2007.

Once the application is made, the planning commission reviews it in a public meeting. The amendment to the plan is then sent to the state for a 60-day review. The amendment comes back to the planning commission who makes a recommendation to the city council for final approval.

Zoning for the property will also need to change. Currently the property is zoned for public facilities. Weyerhaeuser will petition to have it changed to commercial and residential. According to city officials, the zoning request can be made at the same time as the application to amend the comprehensive plan, but typically zoning requests are made once the amendment is approved.

Requests for a change in zoning go to a hearing examiner who makes a recommendation to the city council. All of these meetings are open to the public.

The comprehensive plan application will not be considered before April. It usually takes a full year for the process to be completed. Rezoning requests typically take four to six months depending on the project.

Taylor promised WSU will not leave Bonney Lake until the new ropes course is completed with the same amenities as the current course.

"We won't move until that is done," he said.

"We may be in Bonney Lake for quite awhile," he added.

Work on the new course will probably not begin until after Weyerhaeuser has secured the zoning amendment.

"They have a lot of work to do," he said. "We won't vacate until they are ready to do what they plan to do with the Bonney Lake location."

When the time comes, Taylor said, WSU plans for a smooth transition between the old course and the new one.

"We won't lose any program time," he said.

Demonstration Forest and 4-H Challenge Program coordinator Vicky McCarley remains committed to the program.

"We have a program that serves a lot of needs and program," she said. "We will fully honor the contracts we have with the community."

The Challenge Program currently has groups booked through 2006.

She recently met with the officials from the Community for Families organization, assuring them the Challenge Program is not leaving, but will simply shift from one place to another.

"Our job is to serve youth to the best of our capability and we'll do that until they close the doors," McCarley said.

McCarley is particularly concerned about how the community will respond to the Community Trail Days scheduled for Saturday.

"I want them to know we're here until we move. There are things we have to do to mange the risks of our site and one of those is making sure there is safe passage for the public outside the challenge area and that's what we'll be investing our time in," McCarley said. "That keeps the site functioning in a healthy aspect for our participants and the public."

The plans call for volunteers to create a section of trail for pedestrians to use along the forest's boundary with state Route 410.

In the meantime, a new group of National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC) members arrived Nov. 2 for a six-week stint. NCCC is a youth community service program of AmeriCorps.

According to team member Jess Lougeay, the group will be working on trail restoration, bringing it up to the Americans with Disabilities Act standards. They will also focus on maitenance of the challenge course.

Taylor admitted the university has been receiving calls from the public since the proposal was announced.

"We understand that people who have put a lot of volunteer hours into the property are not happy. These land considerations are never easy. I do understand how folks get attached to properties," he said. "Our first duty is to our students and our programs."

A group of concerned residents are planning a peaceful rally of support 1 p.m. Saturday in the Albertson's parking lot on state Route 410 in Bonney Lake.

Teresa Herriman can be reached at therriman@courierherald.com.

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