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City could add 64 acres to Gazzam Lake Park

On the Close property beach, looking northwest into Port Orchard Bay. - LEONORA CROSS photo
On the Close property beach, looking northwest into Port Orchard Bay.
— image credit: LEONORA CROSS photo

Land-locked Gazzam Lake Park may soon enjoy a corridor to the banks of Puget Sound.

The city Open Space Commission is recommending public purchase of the $2.5 million, 64-acre Close-Foecke property immediately to the northwest, a deal that would link the 320-acre preserve with ravine-riven forest lands and an unspoiled expanse of beach and tidelands.

“I am so excited about this,” said Leonora Cross, Open Space Commission member. “I think it’s the kind of property people were thinking about when they voted for the open space levy.

“When you put it together with Gazzam Lake, we’re creating a wildlife preserve that has just about every type of open-space environment we have on the island,” she added. “There’s a place where there’s a huge grove of big-leaf maples. The canopy is so thick, there’s nothing under it but four acres of ferns.”

The Bainbridge Island City Council will be asked to approve the purchase at its Nov. 12 meeting.

Open Space Commission members have been negotiating with property owners Patricia Close and David Foecke of Redmond for about a year.

The couple purchased the parcel in 1989 with plans to develop a retreat, but have since decided to take their project elsewhere.

The property was appraised last year at $2.55 million, about $40,000 per acre. Even with a $50,000 discount offered by the owners, who want to see it preserved, the purchase would still eat up 30 percent of the $8 million in open space funds approved by island voters two years ago.

So the Bainbridge Island Land Trust has agreed to meet the city halfway, and raise some $1.25 million toward the purchase through a private drive over a three-year period. The organization would own and manage the property during that time to raise interest in the fund-raising effort.

Frank Stowell, BILT board president, said the 64-acre addition would make Gazzam Lake more of a destination for families wanting to spend a day out of doors.

He cited the educational value in the variety of ecosystems and habitats on the newer parcel, as well as its unspoiled splendor.

“It’s really one of the most beautiful places on the island that I’ve seen,” Stowell said.

Hikers visiting Gazzam Lake from Marshall Road may stumble onto the Close-Foecke land without realizing it, if they miss the lake trailhead and keep heading west.

The heavily forested land is crossed by several rude trails, is cut by ravines and falls away steeply to Port Orchard Bay.

At the bottom of the hill sits the real treasure – 550 feet of pristine rocky beach, otherwise legally accessible only by boat.

If purchased, the property would be the longest stretch of publicly owned waterfront on the west side of the island, except for Fort Ward State Park.

If the fund drive fails, a portion of the property nearest Springridge Road could be sold to pay off the balance, or the owners could take some of the property back.

Although BILT is also helping to raise funds for the hoped-for Pritchard Park land on Bill Point, Stowell expressed confidence that the $1.25 million can be raised.

“These will be challenging projects, both of them,” he said, “but the most wonderful things in the world are challenging.”

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