District plans $12.5 million preserve

Park north of Bend would be a quiet place to experience nature

By Hillary Borrud / The Bulletin

If you go

What: Public meeting on Riley Ranch Nature Preserve

When: 5:30 p.m.-7 p.m. Oct. 9

Where: 799 SW Columbia Street, Bend

Jim Figurski can rattle off a list of wildlife that people have observed at the site of a future $12.5 million Bend Park & Recreation District nature preserve north of the city.

People have spotted cougars and bobcats on the land and a park district wildlife camera recently captured a cow elk on the property, according to Figurski, the district’s landscape architect.

And those are just the large animals.

“It really is sort of a magical place,” Figurski said .

The district has a plan to develop the property, more than 150 acres along the east bank of the Deschutes River, from just north of Awbrey Butte to Tumalo State Park, into a place for people to experience nature, right outside the city limit. Mountain bikes and off-leash dogs would not be allowed.

Although the master plan calls for minimal development of the property, it has a large price tag: an estimated $6.5 million to build a parking lot, trails, overlooks, restrooms and a bridge. On top of that, the district expects to spend more than $183,000 on the master planning process. The district would also remodel an existing 1970s home on the site to turn it into an educational center. The bridge on the north end of the preserve would advance the district’s plan to eventually connect the Deschutes River Trail all the way from Sunriver to Tumalo State Park.

An advisory committee recently recommended the district proceed with this master plan, which includes more development than an alternate version. The district has scheduled an Oct. 9 meeting for the public to provide input on the plan, and the park district board will ultimately decide whether to approve the plan.

Cost estimates provided by the district as recently as June ranged from $2.9 million to $4.8 million, but Figurski wrote in an email that those figures did not include the $570,000 bridge or approximately $1 million to improve road access from Glen Vista Road. Figurski said the district currently has $3.3 million to spend on developing the preserve, and some of that money comes from a $29 million bond measure that voters passed in 2012. The district is still figuring out how to pay for the balance.

The nature preserve would encompass two properties the district purchased for a total of more than $5.8 million in the past couple of years. In December 2010, the district paid $2.75 million for a 122-acre parcel and a year ago, it purchased the remainder of the property for approximately $3.1 million, Figurski wrote. The second parcel, off Glen Vista Road on the north side of Bend, would provide public access to the preserve, which was previously inaccessible except across private property. Although the land is now in public ownership, Figurski wrote that the district does not want the public to use the undeveloped property.

Dan Fishkin, chairman of the Bend Park & Recreation District board, said the preserve could be an important educational resource.

“I think the most important aspect of it from my perspective is to create a nature preserve that focuses on educational opportunities,” Fishkin said. “It should, in my opinion, be a place for contemplation, for communing with nature, learning about nature and educating our young people about nature.”

Fishkin said he is particularly interested in remodeling the house on the property to serve as an “interactive educational center” for young people.

— Reporter: 541-617-7829, hborrud@bendbulletin.com