Proposed land deal that would protect 305 acres of forestland from logging in Jefferson County, Washington, wins support of local officials, environmental groups; deal would join two parks, create 665 acres of parkland

BREMERTON, Washington , March 2, 2014 () – Momentum is growing for a land deal that would protect 305 forested acres from logging and join together two popular Jefferson County parks.

The deal, which is nearing completion between the state and county, would link 310-acre Gibbs Lake Park with 50-acre Beausite Lake Park. The combined parkland would total 665 acres.

Located about three miles south of Chimacum, the Gibbs Lake area is a magnet for hikers, mountain bikers, anglers and equestrians from around the region.

"The (deal) makes an awful lot of sense because we have county parks on either side of this particular land," said Jefferson County Commissioner John Austin. "We're trying to turn this piece of working forest into a park and keep it that way forever."

The 305-acre property between the two parks is owned by the state Department of Natural Resources, which manages it for timber harvests. A plan in 2009 to clear-cut part of the property sparked protest from park users and environmental groups.

DNR halted the clear-cut and began negotiating with the county on a state lands designation exchange. Under DNR's proposal, the property's "state forest land trust" designation would be transferred to part of another DNR-owned property about a mile to the north. That property's new state forest land trust area would generate money for the county through timber harvests. The remainder would continue to generate money for school construction purposes.

The proposal has the strong support of the county and several conservation and outdoor recreation groups.

Gibbs Lake Park's seven miles of single-track trail already spill into the DNR property. These trail sections cut through diverse forest stands dominated by cedar and maple. Mountain bikers have developed some of the trails with jumps and other obstacles.

The lake is popular with catch-and-release anglers. It is closed to swimming due to a harmful algal outbreak.

Beausite Lake Park hosts the Northwest Kiwanis Camp and has a conference center.

A public hearing on Thursday drew more than 75 people, filling the Port Hadlock library meeting room to capacity.

"We love Gibbs," said Brian Kilpatrick, president of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance's West Sound chapter. "It's a no-brainer to preserve it."

Evergreen is working on a possible trail easement that would connect Gibbs Lake Park to Anderson Lake State Park, which is about two miles to the north.

Coop Cooper, president of the Grey Wolf Fly Fishing Club, said preserving adjacent forests will improve fishing in Gibbs Lake.

"As a recreationalist who likes fishing in that lake, I'm firmly for this transfer," he said.

Of the dozen people who spoke, only one opposed the deal.

David Chuljian owns 80 acres of timberland near Gibbs Lake that he says will lose its economic viability if DNR continues to turn logging areas into parks. Having fewer places available for logging means many logging-related businesses he depends on -- from pulp mills to trucking operations -- will abandon the area and take many jobs with them.

Park expansion supporters, he said, "want toilet paper but want it to come from somewhere else."

Because the property is small compared to other DNR properties, some park advocates worry that it will be sold to a large timber company or developer.

DNR will take written or emailed testimony about the deal until Mar. 13. DNR will consider whether the deal has wide public support before it makes a final decision later this year.

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