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For the week of February 26 - March 4, 2003


Bellevue group plans open space fund-raisers

Residents, city seek to protect 
riverside parcel

Express Staff Writer

A contingent of Bellevue residents has launched an ambitious fund-raising campaign to purchase a 13-acre parcel of riverside open space along the Big Wood River.

Express photo by David N. Seelig
Dan Gilmore, left, director of development for the Wood River Land Trust, walks the "Howard Property" Friday with Bellevue resident Janet Barton, center, and Rusty Wilson, artistic director of the Hailey-based Company of Fools theater group. The group has organized a special performance of "The Tempest" Saturday, March 1, in Hailey, to raise funds to help purchase the riverside open-space parcel west of Bellevue.

Led by Janet Barton and Joy Allen, the grass-roots campaign will begin in earnest this weekend, when the first of three major fund-raisers will take place.

"This is a real first for Bellevue, having residents raise money for an open space project," Barton said. "This is a real community effort."

At issue is an initiative by the city of Bellevue and the Hailey-based Wood River Land Trust to purchase a 12.58-acre parcel of land west of downtown Bellevue held by landowner John B. Howard. The plan is to maintain the land as a public park and nature preserve.

The parcel—commonly called the "Howard Property"—is revered for its pristine riparian habitat and mature groves of cottonwood trees.

The city and the landowner have negotiated a purchase-option agreement that gives the city and the land trust until Dec. 31 to pay a fixed price of $250,000 for the land. The agreement does not commit the partnership to buy the land, but does effectively exclude any other buyers from negotiating a purchase during the option term.

Dan Gilmore, Wood River Land Trust director of development, has brokered a separate agreement between the city and the land trust stipulating that each party will be responsible for half of the total purchase cost, but the city alone would hold clear title to the land.

On Saturday, March 1, proceeds from the Company of Fools’ performance of William Shakespeare’s "The Tempest" at the Liberty Theatre in Hailey will go toward the land purchase. Special tickets for the event will include admission to a reception prior to the show at the Wood River Land Trust headquarters and eligibility in a raffle to win wilderness trips with Lost River Outfitters.

"This is the kick off event for fund raising," Barton said, noting that 1,400 invitations were mailed out to prospective supporters.

Barton—the wife of Bellevue Mayor John Barton—said she and other activists also plan to organize a fund-raising event called "Art in the Park" in Bellevue this summer, as well as a "River Dance" street party in the fall. Other smaller fund-raisers, including yard sales, will likely be scheduled intermittently, Barton said.

Supporters of the project are also seeking grant funds to complement the local fundraising efforts.

The city earlier this year committed to buy the land in order to give the project eligibility for a $150,000 grant from the state that would be put exclusively toward the purchase cost. Gilmore said that if the grant is approved, the remaining $100,000 cost would be shared by the land trust and the city.

Gilmore expects to hear in March whether the grant application will be advanced for final consideration.

The city plans to maintain the land as a public preserve that permits passive recreation, such as walking and fishing.

The land trust views the property as a key element of a larger plan to protect a corridor of riparian areas along the Big Wood River from Hailey south through Bellevue.

Part of the property is currently zoned for business use, and the remainder is zoned for a combination of business and residential uses.

The Howard property has been appraised at $475,000, and is currently listed for sale for $795,000, land trust representatives noted.

(Those interested in buying tickets for Saturday’s benefit event can call 578-9122.)

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