What if you could ride your bike, expressly on maintained trails, from Bend to Redmond? What if we saw another Shevlin-sized park on the city's perimeters or if more large-scale conservation efforts, like Skyline Forest, were created in Deschutes County? And what if our region became a magnet for federal conservation funding? This could happen, and it could start with a "Greenprint," a broad planning process backed by the Trust for Public Lands, one of the largest land conservation groups in the country, that's on the ground and running here in Deschutes County with help from a wide range of community groups and agencies.
The Trust for Public Land, a national nonprofit land conservation group, and its local managers have been working over the past several months with several local government officials, agency heads, conservation and business leaders, tourism agencies and the general public to create this plan for Deschutes County that would identify, among other things, land that could be used for wildlife and water conservation or perhaps recreational trail connections. Again, the Greenprint doesn't create or enforce policy, but what it does do is bring seemingly divergent interests to the table, something that doesn't always happen in this region when it comes to conservation. By May of next year, TPL hopes to have completed the Greenprint, providing the community at large with high-tech interactive maps that will serve as a comprehensive plan for how we, as residents of Deschutes County, would like to protect our land and, in a larger view, our quality of life.
Kristin Kovalik is a project manager with TPL, working in the national conservation organization's Bend office and has been involved with the Greenprint for Deschutes County for about nine months. Although the Greenprint is new to Central Oregon, 24 Greenprints have been conducted throughout the country over the past eight years, including projects in the Seattle and Wenatchee areas. Presently, Greenprint projects are also underway in other areas throughout the country, including projects in Texas, Wisconsin, Maine and Missouri. And while this is the first time a Greenprint has been executed locally, the idea has been floated before - some might remember that Greenprint was mentioned during the Bend 2030 project, which itself is similar to this project in that it's also a community-oriented long-term planning effort.
Kovalik says that the timing on Deschutes' Greenprint is optimal in that the economic recession allows the community to stop and take a look at its priorities for the coming years while the region's rapid growth takes a breather. Also, the recession has made for some prime land acquisition opportunities, should the groups or government agencies decide, as a result of the Greenprint, that they'd like to acquire land for projects. The price tag for the Greenprint rings in at about $155,000 - which is funded primarily by TPL, Seattle-based conservation group the Brainerd Foundation, the Deschutes Basin Land Trust, Bend Metro Parks and Recreation District, with additional funding from the cities of Bend, Redmond and Sisters and the Redmond Park and Recreation District.
"When we started looking to do a green print here, the growth was strong. Now, we're seeing that the timing is right. Business owners and other groups have more time and interest in this right now," says Kovalik.
Central Washington conducted a similar process in which the TPL produced the Wenatchee Watershed Vision in 2007. With similar topography and recreational opportunities (albeit a smaller population and larger agricultural presence), Wenatchee's Greenprint went through a process analogous to our own, although it didn't include as much of the high-tech Geographical Information System (GIS) mapping that we'll see in Deschutes County.
"It's an amazing result considering where we started in that community, especially considering the divergent interests," says Kitty Craig, a TPL program manager who worked on the Wenatchee Watershed Vision.
"The agriculture community and the environmental community have been at odds quite a bit there. That was the biggest hurdle for us, but it was important for them to understand that we're not trying to take your land, we're just looking out for the next 20 years," says Craig.
Deschutes County Commissioner Tammy Baney said she had similar concerns initially for the local process. It's important for county residents to become educated on the somewhat complex notion of the Greenprint and realize the ultimate aim of the project, Baney said.
"It takes a lot of education to understand the Greenprint. It's not about taking property rights and it's not about an overlay that could potentially devalue your land. For me, at least, when I first started to engage on the Greenprint I was really concerned that we were getting into a property rights discussion, but that's not the case," says Baney.
Consequently the Greenprint relies heavily on public input. TPL commissioned a Santa Monica-based research agency this spring to survey 400 county residents, investigating their attitudes toward quality of life in the region. The survey found that 83 percent of those polled called quality of life in the region either "excellent" or "good," and many of those surveyed placed wildlife, water and scenic view conservation, as well as recreation opportunities, as a high priority.
Brad Chalfant of the Deschutes Basin Land Trust says the fact that public opinion weighs heavily on the result of the Greenprint is valuable in that this isn't always how conservation efforts are conducted.
"This is the first time we've had the opportunity to reach out to the community and have them help us shape this," says Chalfant, "This [project] is different than any other one that's been done, because the Land Trust, Parks and Rec, and groups in Redmond have pushed hard to make this open to the public. This isn't just agency people pushing their ideas."
Bruce Ronning, the director of planning and development for the Bend Metro Parks and Recreation District, like many others involved in forming the Greenprint, points out the recreational assets that could result from the information gleaned from the project, such as the identification of possible trail connections.
"Redmond, Sisters and Sunriver have trail plans, but the connections between the urban areas, well, the planning is pretty fuzzy. That's an important element - identify a regionally connected trail system. [The Greenprint] not only opens the conversation regarding a trail network and important natural areas, but it gives an agreed-upon planning element," says Ronning.
The Greenprint, Ronning believes, could result in Bend Parks and Rec identifying parcels of land that could be acquired to create these trail connections between, for example, Bend and Redmond, or Bend and Tumalo State Park. He also says that Bend Parks and Rec may very well use the Greenprint to assess the value of acquiring additional park lands on the edge of the city's boundaries.
Chalfant points out that the Greenprint also provides our region with a tool to leverage funding for conservation projects.
"Having this endorsement makes us more competitive when we go for federal funding," says Chalfant.
He's also adamant about the economic opportunities and preservation of the region's quality of life that could result in the long term from having a tool like the Greenprint (and the conservation efforts it may lead to) available to the business community.
"There's a lot of talk about having shovel-ready sites and high-quality education to attract business, and those are important, but if you think about it, people are relocating their businesses here because of the quality of life. We've tended to take that for granted and as we go forward, we need to keep that in mind so that Bend doesn't become just a has-been, but is instead an economically diverse community," says Chalfant.