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No logging allowed

Despite denials by Kitsap County Parks and Recreatoin officials, many in Illahee were still afraid the county was going to “log” a portion of Illahee Forest County Park and Preserve, to raise money to support the rest of the park, and other projects.

Not so, said Parks Executive Director Cris Gears at Wednesday’s meeting of the Illahee park stewardship committee, held in the Central Branch Library, East Bremerton.

He said it’s like the difference between a gardener weeding his patch to make his fruits and veggies healthier, and a farmer reaping his fields and putting every grain on the open market.

County parks is more like the gardener. “We’re basically tree-huggers,” he assured them.

Rumors of logging the county’s second-largest park began to circulate a month ago when parks officials submitted a management proposal to Kitsap County commissioners that included, among other things, the possible need to remove unhealthy trees or “dangerous” trees, and trying to get some return by selling the wood — provided the wood is even sellable.

In defining “dangerous” trees, Gears referred to an incident a few years ago in which a young boy was killed when an unhealthy and unstable tree fell on him in a park. Such trees often have “root rot” or “blister rot.”

Suggestions to county commissioners also included the possibility of clearing undergrowth impeding trails and posing a fire hazard, and possibly selling it to fern pickers for further income for the park.

Again, he reassured members of the Illahee County Park and Preserve Stewardship Committee that fern pickers would not be roaming the woods at will.

Such undergrowth is marketed to florists.

After Gear’s comments, the Stewards agreed they were on the same page now.

On another issue, Gears said “Kitsap County is currently land rich and money poor. If we (in Parks) don’t start acquiring land now, there won’t be anything for our progeny.”

He explained the county had a choice: buy up the land with every penny available and worry about maintaining parks later, or stop buying land and develop and maintain current parks.

He said cleaning-up, weeding out bad trees, and general maintenance and development of parks may be left to volunteers, such as the stewards.

“We need stewards like you to take us from owning land to owning parks,” since at this point, “the county can only afford to buy-up the land before it’s gone; before it’s been developed into homes” and businesses, he said.

He said there was between 2,000 and 5,000 acres of pure land that “We’re calling parks, but aren’t really parks, yet.”

There are 73 parks in Kitsap County. They range from highly developed parks such as Waterfront Park in Old Town Silverdale and the Fairgrounds, to Illahee — the county’s most trash-filled, overgrown, neglected park.

Stewards’ efforts have included persuading Chico Towing to give them a break on pulling out dozens of abandoned vehicles, going in themselves to explore and catalog trees and pick up trash, scout-out possible trails. County prisoners have been enlisted to help pick-up trash in the park — so have Eagle Scouts and high school seniors. The county recently installed guard rails at certain entry points around Illahee.

“With 73 parks, we’re spread awfully thin,” said Gears. Other major acquisitions on the books is 400 acres near Kingston and some property on Bainbridge Island. These areas have not been used for “dumping” like Illahee.

“We get our money from impact fees,” said Gears. “The money was earmarked for developing current parks — ball fields, other amenities. But instead, we borrowed it — $3 million — to buy up Illahee land. Wonderful land, but now we’ve had to put off other projects three or four years.”

The county still has a long ways to go. “There are no parks at all between Bremerton and Key Port ... and that’s a shame.” He said there’s a tentatively planned sports complex for North Kitsap.

The parks system includes about 5,000 acres at this time, with nearly 1,000 developed, he said.

Possible money sources on a less formal basis include renting stalls to food vendors in parks, renting portions to be developed into playing fields, building bird-watching platforms, tree-climbing classes, acquiring the nearby golf course, growing Christmas trees for sale, growing empress trees (grow 15-20 feet annually, 200 trees per acre, $90,000 in sales per acre), selling wood of diseased trees to wood workers and carvers, native plant nursery, selling wood chips.

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