By Reader Staff
For a town that is surrounded by outlying national forests and public lands, Sandpoint has only a few undeveloped natural areas that are close by and available to city residents without a lengthy car ride.
That could be about to change, with the announcement by the Kaniksu Land Trust of a new campaign to acquire 160 acres for a community forest, just a little more than a mile from the town centers of Sandpoint and Dover.
The property, located at the top of the Pine Street hill, is owned by the Weisz family and has been dubbed the “Pine Street Woods” – an area of rolling hills blanketed with evergreens, with open meadows and beautiful vistas. The land trust envisions that the property will become a place where the public can come to recreate, unwind, explore, or attend myriad programs pertaining to ecological and community health and education.
In announcing the campaign this week, KLT Executive Director Eric Grace said the effort to create the community forest will ultimately require strong public support to succeed. KLT has negotiated a purchase price of $1.8 million, but with other project-related costs must raise $2.1 million to pull off the acquisition.
There’s good news at the outset: KLT has already secured cash and commitments of $1.1 million.
“Although half way there, we still need to raise a considerable amount of money to purchase the land,” said Grace. Other large funders are likely to contribute, but for the campaign to succeed community residents and likely users of the property will need to contribute as well.
Under the terms negotiated with the Weisz family, KLT has two years to raise the necessary funds to close the deal. More information about the Pine Street Woods campaign is available at the project page PineStreetWoods.org. The website can also accept donations; alternatively, call Kaniksu Land Trust at 208-263-9471.
The property has been in the Weisz family since 1970, when Joe and his late brother bought it. Since then, Joe has used it to raise cattle and for timber harvest.
“It’s a special place for sure,” said Joe Weisz. “I’m happy to see that the land trust can take over ownership. I’d like to see it remain open for all the deer, elk, moose and other wildlife up there.”
Grace said KLT intends to manage the land to highlight its benefits to wildlife, clean water, and community recreation and education. Educational programming on the land will include ParkRx, StoryWalk, and unlimited access for schools and community groups.
“People are starting to fully realize the health, recreation and educational benefits of access to trails and open spaces,” he said “There is mounting evidence that amenities like the Pine Street Woods provide significant benefits to community health and vitality, in addition to impacting economic drivers and attracting employers to the region.”
The varied habitats and terrain on the property offer unique education and research opportunities. KLT proposes to continue to manage the land for timber production, as has been done for decades, but with the addition of learning opportunities for local students and family forest owners. Grace said it will be managed with input from users, and the public will be invited to participate in the development of a master plan for the property over the coming months.
The property is situated adjacent to the popular “Sherwood Forest” trails, a mecca for area hikers and mountain bikers, but the Pine Street Woods will provide an enhanced experience by dispersing people onto new trail networks and offering gentler, more accessible terrain. There will be trails for users of all ability and fitness levels, in addition to road access and a parking lot and trailhead on the property.
“We envision multi-use trails for walking, running, biking, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and picnicking, as well as places to just find solitude in nature,” says Grace.
KLT’s purchase of the Pine Street Woods has already received support from the Dover City Council, and other user groups involved with trails and outdoor opportunities. These include the Bonner County Trail Mix Committee, Friends of the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail, Pend Oreille Pedalers and Idaho Trails Association.
The Pine Street Woods project builds on a growing number of trail initiatives in Bonner County in recent years, including the Water Passage Trail from Newport to Dover, the Watershed Crest Trail that will link Schweitzer Mountain Resort to the Mickinnick Trail, and the Pend d’Oreille Bay Trail that connects the communities of Sandpoint and Ponderay along Lake Pend Oreille’s shoreline.