Willamalane buys 175 acres of ridgeline forestland

SPRINGFIELD, Ore. - Park officials bought 175 acres of forestland this week as part of a plan to build public hiking and mountain biking trials along the Thurston ridgeline, the Willamalane Park and Recreation District said.

“The Thurston Hills property is the first phase of our vision of a walking, hiking and mountain biking trail system around the Thurston ridgeline,” Willamalane Superintendent Bob Keefer said. “This property frames the east end of town and plays a rich part in our timber history. This is an opportunity to preserve the forested ridgeline forever.”

The purchase comes a few months after voters approved a $20 million bond measure to support parks in the Willamalane district. Willamalane is in talks with two other large landowners on more than 300 other acres.

Willamalane paid $2.5 million for the Gray-Jaqua holdings. Keefer said property owners Hugh Gray and Connie Jaqua had been working with the district for a few years on the preservation effort, with assistance from The Trust for Public Land.

Within the next year, Willamalane will develop a master plan for the site that takes into consideration its unique habitat while ensuring public access.

Willamalane is working on several other projects funded in part by bond dollars:

  • At Willamalane Center for Sports and Recreation, planners are considering adding two new multiple-use artificial turf sports fields, 85 parking spaces, outdoor basketball courts, a picnic shelter, walking trail and more.
  • Willamalane is working on acquiring and developing an almost 4-acre private park in the Pacific Park subdivision in northwest Springfield. It will be brought up to Willamalane’s standards and serve the entire neighborhood. A neighborhood meeting was held in March, and Willamalane is applying for grant funds to help with park development. The design will be refined over the summer and fall, and construction is planned for 2014.
  • In the growing Jasper Natron area of southeast Springfield, Willamalane is working with Springfield Public Schools on a new park that would also serve as a playground for a future school at the site. Construction could start as soon as this summer on a park that would include a basketball court; separate play areas for older and younger kids; a sandbox; a walking trail; picnic table; and more. The property is located east of Bob Straub Parkway and south of Quartz Avenue.

Willamalane Park and Recreation District maintains and operates five recreation facilities and 37 parks and open spaces that make up almost 800 acres. Highlights include Splash! at Lively Park, Camp Putt Adventure Golf Park, 12 waterfront areas, 17 miles of hiking and biking trails, 15 sports fields and 23 playgrounds. Willamalane offers hundreds of recreation programs to more than 60,000 patrons.

Created by voters in 1944, Willamalane is a special tax district, separate from the city of Springfield, with its own boundaries. It is governed by a five-member, elected board of directors and managed by a district superintendent. Online information is available at willamalane.org.