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Kinross purchases canyon property

— About 63 acres of cliffs and scabland near the Whistler Canyon Trailhead will remain accessible to the public, after Kinross Gold Corp. purchased it Friday during an Okanogan County auction.

“This could be said to be a win-win for everyone involved,” the Save Whistler Canyon Trailhead group posted on its Facebook page.

No one stepped forward at the auction to challenge Kinross, which secured the land – located off U.S. Highway 97 south of town – at the minimum bid of $47,520.

“It’s undetermined right now what we plan to do with it for sure, but the plan right now is to preserve it as a reserve for the public,” Kinross spokeswoman Deana Zakar said. “We’re trying to do a good thing for the local community and be a good neighbor, be part of the community.”

Kinross Gold owns and operates the Buckhorn Mine near Chesaw.

The Pacific Northwest Trail Association had been collecting donations to buy the scabland at auction. The initial goal had been $70,000. By Friday $45,750 had been raised.

Association Executive Director Jon Knechtel, who worked with Kinross to acquire the property, said he’ll have a better idea next month what that money will be used for, or if it will be refunded to whomever wants their donation back.

“There is another parcel in Okanogan County that the (Pacific Northwest National Scenic) Trail traverses and Kinross would like to see that acquired with the funds that were raised,” Knechtel said.

“I’m very happy that we purchased the land and protected the trail and the Frog Pond trail, both,” he said.

Kinross representatives also spoke to the county before moving ahead with plans to purchase the land, Zakar said.

“It seemed like there was a lot of public support for the project and it looks like a good piece of property that would benefit the public in general,” she said.

“I am glad the sale is behind us – it has been a very long and occasionally contentious project,” said Trygve Culp, Pasayten Region coordinator of the Pacific Northwest Trail Association. “The sale also relieves the county of the burdens of ownership and puts the parcel back on the tax rolls – both good moves.”

Trail and recreation supporters had approached the county in September to protest selling the land. They expressed concern that a buyer might close it off to public access and recreation, noting that last summer more than 3,500 people had used the trails and climbed the cliffs there.

County commissioners said the scabland and adjacent 32 acres of agricultural land shouldn’t be owned by the county. The agricultural land also went up for bid Friday, but did not sell. An agreement had been made in 2008 with previous county commissioners to buy and then hold the land until the U.S. Forest Service could purchase it, but the federal funding never came.

The county’s goal was to get the bulk of the land back onto the tax rolls, commissioners said. The county will keep 3.77 acres of land that includes the trailhead and parking lot, and obtained easements around the trails.

“Another big benefit of this purchase is the wildlife habitat that is protected,” former Tonasket District Ranger Mark Morris said. “The scab land is actually important wildlife habitat and serves as connecting land between Driscoll Island that is a state Fish and Wildlife habitat piece, and (Bureau of Land Management) and National Forest land.”

Morris said he’s grateful to Kinross for purchasing the land, as well as to the county for holding it all this time.

“Those who enjoy viewing wildlife will have opportunities here for a very long time,” he said. “This is a win for the hikers and trail user groups, rock climbers and those to value wildlife either for viewing or hunting.”

There’s a chance the land could be considered mitigation property for Kinross’ mining activities, but the land wouldn’t necessarily be tied to Buckhorn Mine. Zakar said Kinross does own mitigation properties to offset Buckhorn operations.

“When we permitted that operation there were certain things that we had to do in the area, and some of those were mitigation projects,” she said.

The agricultural property was one of six surplus parcels that didn’t sell Friday.

County Treasurer Leah McCormack said it will remain in county ownership for now, but the parcels will be offered again at a future surplus property sale.

The county also hosted a tax foreclosure sale Friday that included 40 parcels. Thirty-seven parcels sold for a total of $228,593.

The total minimum bid for each parcel totaled $103,351.

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