A verdant forested 46-acre property hugging Issaquah on one side and King County’s Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park on the other was an enticing draw for developers proposing to carve a 57-home subdivision into the hillside.
But with greenspace ever more precious in a rapidly growing region, the City of Issaquah, The Trust for Public Land (TPL) and King County had a different vision for the high conservation-value “Bergsma Property,” which is home to wildlife habitat, mature second-growth trees and salmon-supporting streams.
Catalyzed by King County’s Land Conservation Initiative (LCI) – an accelerated effort to protect 65,000 acres of the last, best greenspaces before they are gone or become too expensive – the three organizations got creative to protect Bergsma from development and to retain its vital ecological value.
They also saw tremendous potential for connecting Issaquah’s Harvey Manning Park to other city parks, trails and open spaces, the master-planned Talus community, and a major transit center serviced by Trailhead Direct, King County’s transit-to-trails program. And, finally, they saw potential for a new gateway to King County’s 3,000-acre regional park on Cougar Mountain and its 35 miles of recreational trails.
For King County’s part, protecting the Bergsma property is precisely what Executive Dow Constantine envisioned when he announced his LCI in 2018.
“This is the model for successful land conservation: Cities, nonprofits, and community organizations joining forces with King County serving as the catalyst,” Executive Constantine said. “We need to replicate this success throughout the region to protect the last remaining, most vital greenspaces before they are lost forever.”
In support of the LCI, Conservation Futures Tax (CFT) bonding legislation adopted by the County Council in October 2019 is dramatically accelerating the rate at which King County can protect farm, forest, habitat and urban greenspaces in the short term. Passage of the legislation triples the amount of funding King County has available for open space protection in 2020.
Ultimately, Issaquah purchased the eastern-most 33.5 acres for $10.6 million. King County purchased for $355,000 the westernmost 12.5 acres, which adjoins its existing Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park.
The Bergsma acquisition is one of the first purchases made using the accelerated CFT bond-backed funds. King County awarded Issaquah $5.3 million in CFT toward the acquisition. That award, along with others anticipated next year, is estimated to reduce Issaquah’s ultimate cost to $3.8 million. To decrease the city’s upfront costs, TPL provided $3 million to Issaquah on an interest-free basis until the end of the year.
Several community partners supported the acquisition, including Save Cougar Mountain, Mountain to Sound Greenway, Issaquah Alps Trails Club, and Washington Trails Association.