As a scholar of urban planning, I’ve studied the growth management debate in the Seattle area. With a growing population, the Seattle region lacks sufficient trails through open space, near existing subdivisions, available for young families and other outdoor enthusiasts.
Despite Seattle debates among planners over planning concepts such as gravelscaping, mass transit, urban growth boundaries, “smart growth," and "smart growth towers," virtually all urban planners universally agree that the best way to preserve natural landscapes, in rapidly growing areas, is establishing permanent parks and building trails.
And, that is precisely what the Mountains to Sound Greenway (MTSG) has done, for two decades.
The current land conservation model in King County, under the Washington State Growth Management Act, is an urban growth boundary, separating high density sprawl, from low density five acre privately held estates. These five acre properties are not available for public recreation. Therefore, the urban growth boundary does not conserve open space for parks and trails.
(The King County urban growth boundary runs, from north to south, at the eastern edge of the Cities of Woodinville, Redmond, Sammamish, Issaquah, Bellevue, Newcastle, Renton, Kent, Covington, Maple Valley, Auburn, Black Diamond, and Enumclaw. A few ”islands” of high density growth are permitted beyond the boundary, such as Redmond Ridge, and Cities in the Snoqualmie Valley.)
Since the five acre lots are not available for recreation, then under the current system, acquiring land for public trails is paramount for expanding outdoor recreational opportunities. Acquiring land outside the urban growth boundary for trails, in the vicinity of Interstate 90, is one of many diverse projects of the Mountains to Sound Greenway.
As the population grows, hikers, trail runners, and mountain bikers will face increased pressure from their peers on the trails. Therefore, establishing more parks and trails is essential to keep up with population growth, just as expanding transportation infrastructure.
Furthermore, urban planners in public administration also value volunteers from groups, such as the Mountains to Sound Greenway, since they make their jobs easier. Volunteers plant native trees, remove invasive species, and build hiking and cycling trails - and also maintain and upgrade trails.
Indeed, with local tax revenues decreasing due to the recession, volunteers and philanthropic groups such as the Mountains to Sound Greenway are increasingly important, especially when Cities regrettably are forced to let go their very own talented urban planners, due to budget cuts.
As the Puget Sound region, and even Kittitas County (east of the Cascades, where the Greenway ends) faces increased development, the Mountains to Sound Greenway will continue to preserve open space and build trails for public use, indefinitely. Open space located near housing developments and freeways absorbs air pollution, provides trails for exercise, and supports wildlife, native bird populations, and endangered plants.
Even developers recognize the value of urban parks and greenbelts as natural amenities. Open space within close proximity to housing developments increases the selling price of homes.
In addition, the the Mountains to Sound Greenway offers informative educational materials for the public, such as the brochure “Building in the Mountains to Sound Greenway.” This brochure describes how to build architecture that is harmonious with nature, and the importance of preserving mature native trees in new developments.
Again, as with parks and greenbelts, even developers recognize that preserving native trees during construction enhances property values, along with architectural elements that blend in with the natural surroundings.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Mountains to Sound Greenway has collaborated with other conservation groups, civic organizations, schools, and Churches. And, the Mountains to Sound Greenway receives significant financial revenue, from dozens of well known Northwest companies, such as Boeing and Microsoft. And, amazingly, the volunteers and donors come from across party lines, such as former Republican U.S. Senator Slade Gorton.
In closing, I’d like to emphasize that the Mountains to Sound Greenway strategy meets the gold standard of professional urban planners for successful land conservation - acquiring land for permanent preservation and public use.
Be sure to view photos of local mountains along the Mountains to Sound Greenway on their web site: http://mtsgreenway.org/
I attempted to add photos here w/o success. They are now on my Yahoo photo flickr page: http://flickr.com/photos/tom9
Also note that one of the default fields for the user profile says that I am associated with the organization. This is NOT true and I cannot undo the field.