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Originally published April 21, 2009 at 12:06 AM | Page modified April 21, 2009 at 4:15 AM

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Raging River forest acreage to fill gap in I-90 Greenway

A plan unveiled Monday would preserve 7,000 acres of forestland south of Snoqualmie and fill what officials called "a doughnut hole" in the 100-mile Mountains to Sound Greenway.

Seattle Times staff reporter

More than a decade after Jim Ellis took Ron Sims on a walking tour of the Raging River and showed him the cabin he built and lived in during the 1940s, the men returned Monday to the headwaters of the river.

This time they stood on a hillside overlooking the forested valley south of Snoqualmie and unveiled a plan that would preserve 7,000 acres and add it to a corridor of public land stretching along Interstate 90 from Bellevue to the east side of the Cascades.

"It's wonderful to stand here and say that we are finally going to get this property," said Ellis, the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust's first chairman. "This is the culmination of a tremendous amount of investment in surrounding lands that makes this the key piece of the puzzle."

Some details — including the price the state Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will pay to property owner Fruit Growers Supply — are still being negotiated.

But enough has been worked out that Metropolitan King County Councilmembers Reagan Dunn and Larry Phillips announced they are co-sponsoring County Executive Sims' proposal to appropriate $3.7 million to help DNR complete the deal.

Commissioner of Public Lands Peter Goldmark intends to take a completed deal to the Board of Natural Resources on May 5, a DNR spokesman said. The state board and the County Council must approve the deal, under which King County would buy development rights on 4,000 acres.

DNR would continue operating the property — bounded by publicly owned land on Rattlesnake, Tiger and Taylor mountains and Seattle's Cedar River watershed — as a tree farm and could sell the remaining development rights.

Since 1991, the Greenway Trust says its government and private partners have saved 200,000 acres of forest and farmland through public purchases and conservation easements. The biggest single deal was King County's 2004 purchase of development rights on the 90,000-acre Snoqualmie Tree Farm.

The Raging River property was "a doughnut hole" in the 100-mile-long greenway, Dunn said at a hillside press conference. Phillips called the parcel another piece in "the emerald necklace we've been stringing together for some time."

Lands Commissioner Goldmark, wearing boots and jeans, said part of his agency's mission is to save working forests from development.

Sims, who could resign as early as next week to become U.S. deputy secretary of housing and urban development, said he had told people he was determined to protect the Raging River headwaters: "I walked it with Jim Ellis. I would like to shake his hand someday and say, 'We got the Raging River done.' "

They didn't just shake hands Monday. They hugged, as Ellis exclaimed, "Ron, congratulations! I watched and I said he's going to get it. You did."

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Ellis, 87, fished for chinook salmon on the Raging River as a youth (and later watched the fish runs decline), built a cabin at 15 with his younger brother John, and built a fancier cabin after World War II for himself and his bride.

The river, a tributary of the Snoqualmie, supports one-fifth of the larger river's chinook runs, county officials said. Ellis is hopeful the once-plentiful runs will return under state ownership.

"We're looking over land that's going to look nothing but better," he said.

Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or kervin@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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