Opinion

Charter change gives us a chance to protect county’s rural gems

By Bob Ferguson and Reagan Dunn

Our region is filled with majestic places. As two kids growing up in King County, we experienced the trails and backcountry of Washington as our playground, shaping who we are and what we value. Though we both ventured afar to pursue academic and professional opportunities, we could not escape the hold of this region’s natural beauty and its access to open space. It played a prominent role in each of our decisions to return to King County.

Now, as the father of young twins (Bob) and a soon-to-be father (Reagan), protecting these open spaces has taken on a new significance. To ensure these unique places are maintained for future generations of county residents, we have co-sponsored legislation to add a process to the county charter to protect county-owned lands. Just as our national parks provide heightened protection for our nation’s most treasured natural places, the Open Space Preservation Act will protect King County’s most valued open spaces.

The proposed charter amendment would allow the County Council by a supermajority of seven votes to give a special designation to certain county properties with high conservation value. These properties would be set aside as open space for future generations. The proposal is now before the full council and, if adopted, will go to the voters for final approval on the November ballot.

We also sponsored legislation to create the first list of properties that will receive this designation if approved by the voters. These 95 properties are all owned by the county and are located outside the urban growth boundary. They represent nearly 150,000 acres of the region’s lands with the highest conservation value, ranging from the Cascade foothills to salmon habitat and shoreline.

They include the county’s largest treasurers — the 2,688-acre Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park with its forests, streams and miles of hiking trails — to our smallest gems, such as 14 acres nestled along Puget Sound at Inspiration Point on Vashon Island.

The Open Space Preservation Act and the companion list of properties have received the enthusiastic support of leaders in the region’s environmental community, including the Cascade Land Conservancy and Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust. They are also fully supported by the King County Executive and many of our colleagues.

The leg-islation originated with a recommendation from the King County Charter Review Commission. This group of county citizens was appointed to recommend changes to the county charter, the basic structural document of county government, similar to a Constitution. The commission recommended that the county act to protect these properties. We responded, and members of the commission have voiced their strong support for the Open Space Preservation Act.

Since we were kids, the region’s population has swelled by more than 60 percent, placing increasing pressures on land throughout the county. If we want to ensure that our children enjoy the same treks through mature forest, climbs to scenic vistas and tidepooling expeditions that we took for granted, we must act to conserve our regional treasures. The Open Space Preservation Act gives the council and the voters an opportunity to show their pride in our county’s open spaces and protect these lands for future generations.

— King County Councilmembers Bob Ferguson and Reagan Dunn were born and raised in King County.

For more information

Several parks and natural areas on Vashon would receive extra protection if this amendment were to pass. Among them are Island Center Forest, Ellis Creek, Dockton Forest, Raab’s Lagoon and Shinglemill Creek.

For more information about the Open Space Preservation Act, as well as a complete list of properties that will receive enhanced protection, see www.kingcounty.gov/exec/charter/issues/openspace.

The council will hold a public hearing and possible action on the open space act and the companion list of properties on July 13.

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