The unexpected announcement of the December auction of the county lands around the Whistler Canyon Trailhead is disturbing to the many users of the trail, but also should concern citizens of the whole county. The northern part of the county needs increased tourist spending, as well as easy public recreational access to the federal lands along the valley.
Since it’s establishment in 2008 Whistler Canyon Trailhead has been increasingly popular as a year round destination with all sorts of people for all sorts of recreational activities, from hiking to horseback riding, mountain biking and rock climbing to trail running, snow shoeing, hunting and geo-caching. The proposal to sell the lands around the trail could diminish the value of these activities by limiting public access and degrading the natural beauty of the area.
The trailhead was purchased in 2008 from Gold Diggers Orchards by the county using Title 2 and 3 federal funding. It was intended to be transferred to federal ownership, but due to the Great Recession there were glitches in the plan. The BLM is still actively trying to negotiate with the county to complete this process, but the current commissioners have obviously now abandoned that commitment and are selling the land in two parcels, one as irrigable agricultural, the other as undevelopable “scab lands”. The fear of the trail users is that the only possible commercial value of the cliffy scab lands will be for a rock quarry/gravel pit.
Obviously the current commissioners have ideological differences with their predecessors. They may well have good intentions of increasing the county’s tax base through this sale, but they are also being short sighted to the much greater benefit the Whistler Canyon Trailhead brings to the community; economic and esthetic.
At this point these arguments are moot. The commissioners have announced that the sale of the lands will be in December. It is now up to the local community to pull together and buy them for public preservation. The Pacific NW Trails Association is coordinating this effort, with contributions being refundable if they do not win the bid. To donate please contact PNT.org or call 877-854-9415.