Yakima Herald-Republic: National recreation area plan a natural fit or folly?

By David Lester

Yakima Herald-Republic

April 17, 2012

CLE ELUM, Wash. — It’s hard to imagine an issue as controversial as the long-discussed expansion of Bumping Lake, part of a broad proposal to secure a better water future for the Yakima Valley.

But now rivaling Bumping is a proposal — also part of that water plan — to create 140,000 acres of national recreation areas in two locations on either side of Interstate 90 near Cle Elum.

National recreation areas are federal designations that generally promote activities like boating and snowmobiling but can also preserve areas as wilderness with no development.

On the other side, a smaller group of conservation organizations favors the proposal as part of a broader land management concept including wild and scenic river designations and the purchase of 70,000 acres of private lands in the Teanaway, Little Naches, and the Yakima River Canyon.

Placing those lands under public ownership is seen as a way to assure health of the river system that serves the Yakima Valley.

Helping Kittitas County

The national recreation areas suggestion is designed to address Kittitas County’s concerns about the loss of private land from the tax rolls and to provide flexibility in managing a variety of recreation offered on public lands.

Kittitas County commissioners are on board with the recreation area concept and the overall land conservation goals. Commissioner Paul Jewell said the designation recognizes how the land is already used.

“It’s a level of guarantee that land will be available and will be managed for that use,” Jewell argued. “The designation has the potential to create more notoriety, more opportunity and benefit to Kittitas County in that it attracts more users. They spend time recreating and supporting jobs in our county.”

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