A group of Newport area residents told the Newport City Council Monday that they would like to designate up to 80 acres of forest land behind the municipal swimming pool, from NE 12th to Big Creek Park, as an official community forest park, free of future pressures to develop.
Oregon Coast Community Forest Association representative Penelope Kaczmerek asked the council to consider something akin to a conservation easement that would legally put the land, currently owned by the city, out of the reach of any future development so that it may be used in perpetuity for the passive enjoyment of Newport residents and visitors to the Central Coast.
Kaczmerek said similar community forests are scattered across the country, including Astoria here in Oregon, and another one in Arcata, near Eureka just across the border in California. She added that with the growth of the oceanographic and scientific community in the region, along with general tourism, the park would provide an added tourist and quality of life attraction for everyone.
Kaczmerek said although the land is currently zoned as public open space, that zoning could be changed by a future city council which could involve housing subdivisions or other development. She said the 80 or so acres represents forestlands that were more common before logging and other human intervention into the natural environment; a sort of frozen picture in time. She said should the city agree to a forest park designation with added protections, it would make it easier to acquire grants and other financial help in preserving the forest along with maintaining paths and perhaps par courses within it.
City councilors generally seemed interested in the proposal. But councilor David Allen offered a word of caution that such a change in official land use designation could involve an added burden to the city’s general fund. He suggested that there appears to be little more that could be accomplished today, just the way it is, than if the land had a conservation easement placed over it. Kaczamerek acknowledged Allen’s concerns but reiterated that with the involvement of their non-profit status, the Oregon Coast Community Forest Association could become a financial partner with the city as both entities pursue a preservation and management plan for the property.
Mayor Mark McConnell offered a suggestion that the association firm up their proposal and work with Community Development Director Derrick Tokos to come up with a name for the affected area, with a boundary line around it, so it can become a known entity that they can talk about as the city further explores the option of creating a community forest park. McConnell said he wants to involve relevant city department heads in the discussions, including Public Works Director Tim Gross who manages water and other utility lines in that area.