Commissioners purchase largest chunk of forest in county history

Officials to preserve Banner forest from development for at least three decades.

“>It was just too good a deal to pass up, so the Kitsap County Commissioners Monday agreed to purchase the so-called Banner forest property in South Kitsap for a whopping $1.3 million, saving it from future development for at least the next 30 years. Measured at about 640 acres, the property itself is plum full of old-growth as well as wildlife and, prior to the purchase, was owned and maintained by the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR). One decade ago, to the consternation of hundreds of county residents, the DNR apparently planned a land swap in which Banner forest could have fallen into a private developer’s hands. People may not understand at first why the county would be interested in purchasing land already owned by the state, said county commissioner Tim Botkin. An odd notion to be sure. But as Botkin and other county officials said, the state had been under no obligation to maintain the property as a natural reserve –any proceeds from the property were funnelled into the common schools trust fund. That had always been its priority, he said. Bottom line, unless locally controlled, Banner forest wouldn’t necessarily be safe from development. Just ask Chuck McGuire and hundreds of other citizens who attest the state 10 years ago was poised to swap the Banner forest property for some land on Tiger Mountain in King County. We heard from an Olalla resident who happened to work in Seattle that a housing development was about to go in at Banner forest, McGuire said. So a couple hundred of us marched on the county courthouse. Under unexpected yet intense public pressure that never wavered over the last 10 years, local and state-elected officials helped change the fate of Banner. At least for awhile, anyway. The county can only use the property for parks and open space, as a condition of the purchase over the next 30 years, explained Rick Fackler, an official with the county parks department. This is truly a happy day, McGuire said, who has lived near Banner forest for 45 years, retiring from the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard two decades ago. McGuire, a local activist, said he’s pleased citizen effort has paid off. But he and others are still worried about the land’s preservation at the end of 30 years. The county can, after three decades, he said, develop or sell timber on the property. In particular, about 40 acres at the heart of the forest, prime with old growth and magnificent flora and fauna should be protected, he said, to ensure that school children for years to come can explore the area. It should be used as as a working classroom and we need to make sure that there’s not going to be any chance of someone getting in there with a chain saw, he said. Commissioner Charlotte Garrido suggested that he and the many others concerned about this natural resource, work with the Great Peninsula Conservancy to secure a conservation easement for the 40 acres. McGuire, already dedicated for 10 years, agreed. Before the county commissioners, the retiree also recognized the hundreds of other neighbors who, he said, worked harder and longer than himself to ensure the county purchase Banner. I have found this to be a rewarding experience, he said, crediting the Banner success to his neighbors, such as Paul and Beth Wilson. To work with the younger people of this community with their vision, stamina and good judgment to follow through with this effort. “