Blanchard State Forest reaches final phase of collaborative conservation project

After more than a decade of hard work and collaboration between a diverse group of stakeholders, Blanchard Forest has reached a significant milestone.

About 100 people gathered on top of Blanchard Mountain on Sunday despite the chilly rains of early fall along the Salish Sea to celebrate turning the final corner in the Blanchard Forest Strategy, a plan that includes the concept of conserving a 1,600-acre portion of Blanchard Forest.

Washington State Commissioner of Public lands Hilary Franz, never one to have her spirits dampened by the weather, bounded up to Samish Overlook offering hugs and congratulations to the shivering groups of stakeholders gathered atop the mountain to celebrate.

After more than a decade of careful planning and collaboration, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), its partners and supportive members of the Legislature secured a total of $16.5 million, enough to fully implement the Blanchard Forest Strategy. The money is being used to acquire replacement lands for the core zone so DNR can continue to meet its fiduciary requirements.

“We now have something, through your hard, tireless work, to pass on to our children—and I don’t just mean this unbelievable mountain,” Commissioner Franz said. “I mean the vision that you can maintain this mountain and tell this story.”

The original Blanchard Committee began in 2006 and have spent the past 12 years working on this project. The committee came to the table on behalf of Blanchard and its beneficiaries for years, putting in the work to achieve a unique strategic plan.

In 2008, the committee completed the Blanchard Forest Strategy and the plan, which includes the concept of conserving the core zone, went into action. The committee included interest groups like Conservation Northwest, community members in Skagit County, industrial forest managers, Backcountry Horsemen of Washington, Skagit Land Trust, and Pacific Northwest Trail Association to reach this milestone.

It was a long road, but conservationists, the timber industry, outdoor recreationists, and the county that relies on state timber revenue were united in realizing the vision for Blanchard Mountain.

Hilary Blanchard
Washington State Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz addresses a crowd at Samish Overlook during the Sept. 16th Blanchard Celebration. Photo by Sarah Dettmer

None of this would have been possible without key supporters in the legislature throwing in their support for the project.  Franz said she is grateful for the support of the legislators like Senator David Frockt, Senator Kevin Ranker, Representative Steve Tharinger, and Representative Jeff Morris who fought to get DNR funding to acquire replacement lands.

DNR has already used $4.5 million in legislative appropriations to purchase about 920 acres of nearby forestland from willing private sellers.  DNR, in partnership with the Blanchard Committee, is busy purchasing and transferring lands with the remaining $12 million of available funding in order to complete the acquisition of replacement lands for the core zone.

DNR continues to seek additional forest lands to provide timber revenue for Skagit County and other local services, including the Burlington-Edison School District.

As the Commissioner delivered her thanks to the crowd, the rain took a brief pause and the San Juan Islands appeared through the mist beyond the Samish Overlook.

“This area represents what is so amazing about Washington State,” Commissioner Franz said. “You’ve got the mountains, you’ve got the Salish Sea, you’ve got our unbelievable islands, our working forest, and our old-growth forest right here reminding us that we’re some of the most fortunate human beings to be able to live and grace this landscape and call this place home.”

About Blanchard

Blanchard Forest is a 4,800-acre forest in Skagit County managed by DNR. It is located on the southern end of the Chuckanut Range, north of the City of Burlington. The forest is state trust land that DNR manages to generate revenue to support Skagit County public services. A Discover Pass is required to visit the area.

It’s a popular spot for hiking, biking, horseback riding, hang gliding and paragliding. The forest also produces timber that generates revenue for beneficiaries such as Skagit County, the Burlington-Edison School District, Skagit County Road Department, Medic One, the Port of Skagit, and United General Hospital.