THURSTON, Ore. -- Willamalane is one-step closer to creating the Thurston Hills Natural Area.
Willamalane Superintendent Bob Keefer said the organization recently completed its purchase of 665 acres along the Thurston Hills ridgeline.
"It could have been prone to development. It could have been prone to timber removal, lots of different uses could have come to it," Keefer said.
"Now, it will be preserved as a landscape and as a natural area."
Dozens of supporters including Congressman Peter DeFazio, Willamalane Board Members and others from the U.S. Forest Service, ODF, Weyerhaeuser and community representatives celebrated Willamalane's milestone.
The large, forested area at the east end of Springfield is home to oak savannahs, forests, basalt rock structures and breathtaking vistas.
Keefer says more than $1 million in federal funds and $6.5 million in voter approved bond money from 2012 helped purchase the nearly 700 acre tract.
"Willamalane's vision for the ridgeline property is not only to preserve views, wildlife habitat and sensitive natural areas," Keefer says. "It's to provide excellent walking, hiking and mountain biking opportunities."
He says the entire project would not have been possible without Willamalane voters, supporting private property owners and the leadership of the Trust for Public Land in negotiating several agreements that work for all parties.
"One of the things we know about Oregonians is that we love our outdoors," Keefer said. "That's why you see the restrictions of land development that we have. It's because people enjoy being able to get on their bikes right outside their house, and get on trail and go."
Keefer says Willamalane will begin construction on trails, restrooms and park infrastructure in about a year.
He says the Thurston Hills Natural Area will open sometime shortly after that.