MOUNT VERNON — The state Department of Natural Resources has proposed a trust land swap to protect the popular recreation areas on Blanchard Mountain.
The proposal is open for public comment through June 29.
The two-part proposal would involve changing the status of some state trust lands in Skagit County and using $10 million in state funding to purchase new trust lands.
Natural Resources is responsible for logging state trust lands in order to provide revenue to various state and local beneficiaries.
The purpose of the proposed trust land swap is to put part of the state forest on Blanchard Mountain into conservation status without losing state trust land timber revenue that goes toward public services in Skagit County and schools statewide.
“We are very excited to be getting this close to completing the vision for Blanchard that was started 10 years ago,” Natural Resources Trust Outreach Specialist Lisa Anderson said Thursday during a public hearing in Mount Vernon.
In 2008, the state agency adopted a management plan for the state forest on Blanchard Mountain. That plan was written after two years of input and debate from local conservation and recreation groups, and it designated the recreation-heavy portion of the forest as the core.
The 1,600-acre core of the 4,800-acre state forest includes 15 miles of trails and gets about 100,000 visitors each year, Natural Resources Baker District Manager Chris Hankey said.
Natural Resources now proposes permanently protecting the core from logging by using trust lands elsewhere to provide Skagit County and the state’s schools with timber revenue.
The state forest on Blanchard Mountain is a forest trust, from which the state agency is required to produce timber revenue for Skagit County and other local taxing districts including a school district, hospital and emergency medical services provider.
Under the proposal, some trust lands in Skagit County that provide timber revenue to schools statewide, called common school trusts, would be redesignated as trust lands that provide timber revenue to county and local taxing districts, called forest trusts.
“This allows us to place all of the core ... into conservation status,” Anderson said. “That’s a pretty big deal.”
The Blanchard core has become a popular recreation area in the region known for sweeping views from the Samish Overlook, Oyster Dome and backcountry camping areas at Lily and Lizard lakes.
Agency Trust Land Transfer Project Manager Bob Winslow said in providing the $10 million in the capital budget, the state Legislature recognized that the Blanchard core is better suited for conservation and recreation than for timber harvest.
“What’s rare about Blanchard is that it’s so close to Puget Sound,” he said. “There’s not very many places where you have contiguous forests down to the water.”
To protect that area, Natural Resources proposes replacing the timber and land value of the Blanchard core by redesignating up to 860 acres of common school trusts in other parts of Skagit County as forest trusts.
Winslow said that exchange of common school trusts for forest trusts will allow Natural Resources to continue a timber revenue stream for Skagit County.
The $10 million will then be used to purchase additional lands anywhere in the state to replace the common school trusts in Skagit County that become forest trusts.
Natural Resources is seeking public comments about the possible land transfer, as well as suggestions for which common school trust lands in Skagit County should be exchanged for the Blanchard core.
The nine community members who spoke Thursday said they supported the land transfer proposal.
“It’s just a great night tonight,” local Sierra Club chapter chair Judith Akins said.
After taking public comment, Natural Resources will select some common school trust lands in Skagit County to recommend for the exchange and submit a proposal to the state Board of Natural Resources.
The state agency has identified 110 parcels of common school trust lands throughout the county, from near Bow and Lake McMurray to near Rockport, that it will choose from, according to proposal maps.
Winslow said he expects the agency will submit a proposal to the board this winter, in anticipation of the June 2019 deadline for using the funding provided by the Legislature.