Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Expansion proposed for Cedar Bend

Plan would add 80 acres of riparian and hillside lands to preserve

Express Staff Writer

A proposal by the Wood River Land Trust could dramatically increase the size of one of the Hailey organization's most cherished land preserves in the Wood River Valley.

The existing Cedar Bend Preserve—located adjacent to the Big Wood River and comprised of approximately 4.5 acres—could potentially grow by an additional 80 acres if a proposed land swap between the land trust and the Idaho Department of Lands is agreed to by both sides.

Several representatives from the land trust attended a Hailey City Council meeting Monday, Dec. 12, to ask for the city's support for expanding the preserve. Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant and the four-member City Council were all enthusiastic in their support of the proposal.

"I think it's pretty darn good," City Council member Richard Davis said of the proposed deal.

The expanded preserve would protect a high-quality cottonwood forest stretching from the existing Cedar Bend Preserve north to Lions Park, said Kate Giese, stewardship coordinator for the land trust. In addition to the cottonwood forests, Giese said, the parcel includes trails along the Big Wood River, the Croy Creek wetlands adjacent to Lions Park and areas of the Della Mountain hillside.

The parcel is also a year-round refuge for wildlife such as moose, river otter and migratory songbirds, Giese said.

Densely forested riparian habitats like those in Cedar Bend are quite rare throughout southern Idaho, where much of the land is arid high desert, Giese said. "It's incredible wildlife habitat," she said.

The Wood River Land Trust's proposal hinges on a request currently in the works with the Idaho Department of Lands, the owner of the 80-acre parcel.

Although details of the deal haven't been finalized, they would likely include an exchange of an as-yet-undetermined portion of the existing Cedar Bend Preserve for the 80-acre parcel. The land trust would take ownership of the larger parcel, while the Idaho Department of Lands would receive the smaller parcel. Because portions of the Cedar Bend Preserve are within Hailey, the parcel given to the Idaho Department of Lands could eventually be developed.

"They would ultimately sell this lot," Giese said.

Any monetary discrepancy that resulted from the land swap would be made up by the owner of whichever parcel is less valuable, she said. The value of each property hasn't been appraised yet, Giese said.

Turning a portion of Cedar Bend Preserve over for development does have its faults, she said. "This is certainly not ideal," Giese said. "But what the community is gaining is certainly tremendous."

Losing the larger 80-acre parcel to development if the deal doesn't go through is of far more concern to the land trust, she said.

"We're concerned there would be inappropriate development in the floodplain," Giese said. "We're also concerned that the public access would be closed off if it was developed privately."

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