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Open space dreams need tangible plan
"The old strawberry cannery property on Eagle Harbor. Pastoral fields at Wyatt/Weaver. The Winslow ravine. Large wooded parcels near Gazzam Lake. A waterfront strip near Wing Point.The list of desirable properties unveiled at Thursday's park board meeting certainly dazzled.The real challenge, committee member John Eremic told park commissioners, is that there are so many opportunities.Indeed, the presentation by the district's Land Acquisition Committee - commissioned last spring to give board members a better idea of what's out there in the way of potential parks, open space and ball field sites - was both provocative and exhaustive. The list includes 940 acres - so far.Some of the parcels are now on the market; some may be in the near future; some have undoubtedly been visited by survey crews, and show up on a drawing board in some architect's office somewhere.We make allowance that the discussion was essentially a progress report; the committee has yet to turn its notes into a single, cohesive draft. Nor does the district itself have any immediate plans should direction emerge. But all the while, we found ourselves mentally thumbing through a list of the groups now running on parallel tracks:* The city administration has $500,000 tentatively committed to open-space acquisition in next year's budget, and has been courting various farmers for preservation of their land through development-rights purchases;* In the city planning department, work is under way on a non-motorized transportation plan that will include trail networks and desired connections. Improvements will be prioritized and melded with the city's capital spending plan;* And as documented in this newspaper recently, the Bainbridge Island Land Trust has secured conservation easements on seven parcels this year, protecting about 70 acres of forest and beach. Complicating the picture are the groups' varying resources. The park district has no money for land acquisition, and any bond levy would certainly have to be tied to specific parcels for specific purposes to get voter approval. The city has money but little interest in parks. The land trust manages to preserve acreage without really spending anything, but most of that land is proscribed from public access.With so many groups with overlapping goals - and islanders anxious about the disappearance of local open space - it's clear there's a need for coordination if anything's going to get done. Changing circumstances have moved us beyond the age of big-ticket park purchases - i.e. the Grand Forest, Gazzam Lake and Blakely Harbor Park - to a point where we need new creativity in securing open space. The success of the new south-end trail system, done without public funds as part of a Kelly Samson development, shows the potential.Park board members have slated a workshop for Jan. 13 to discuss the Land Acquisition Committee's wish list. We hope city and land trust representatives are on hand. Perhaps the discussion can include a new coordinating council, to prioritize needs and opportunities. It doesn't even need Acquisition in the name.To be sure, the committee's work so far is impressive. But talking about open space and park preservation is kind of like sitting in the office with your morning coffee, daydreaming about winning the lottery. The next thing you know, it's 4:30 p.m. And you're still poor.These groups need to work together, now as never before, to come up with a winning number. "