Opinion

Preserved natural areas important part of urban-rural balance

urban-rural balance I was interested to read Maxine Keesling's opposition letter to the recent Cougar Mountain park land acquisition by King County. Ms. Keesling cited the economic losses that our community endures when we purchase and set aside tracts of land that may not be developed, but are instead preserved for limited recreational uses.
   I don't argue with her logic that the citizens of King County forgo a significant potential tax revenue which could come from developed housing on Cougar Mountain, or that the money to purchase this land could be spent on alternative park projects, including more sportsfields.
   I do disagree, however, with the implied maxim that "more is better." If housing and development always bring in more money and benefits than underdeveloped land, then it would seem obvious that the county should sell off all its open space to real estate and development interests. The tax base would grow by leaps and bounds as more people moved to the area and we would have mounds of expendable money, right?
   The problem with this maxim is that it overlooks the underlying costs of increased development and the benefits of preserving areas of open space. With new houses and development come the offsetting costs of increased congestion and pollution into our area. Existing populations living downstream from new housing must manage runoff into their area from new construction.
   The tax base that is derived from urban housing is used to pay for a variety of services including increased road construction and repair, increased police and fire protection, and increased erosion and pollution control. These problems exist long after the profiting real estate and development interests have moved on to other projects.
   Benefits of preserving open space area do not show up on an income sheet, but are just as worth mentioning. The Cougar Mountain area is a beautiful natural park for hiking or horseback riding that can be reached within 10 minutes of I-405 or Issaquah. It has a large network of trails and hosts a great variety of animals that could not otherwise survive in a developed environment. There are very few metropolitan areas that have had the foresight to preserve an area like this that is so easily accessible yet seems so removed from the noise and bustle of the surrounding urban areas.
   A healthy community balances urban growth and rural needs with various degrees of recreational opportunities from sports fields to bike trails to preserved natural areas. I think that the Cougar Mountain area is a valuable and important part of this balance in King County.

David Graves, Woodinville