The Eugene-Register Guard reports this week on a Measure 37 claim that could change the face of Lane County. Ten-minutes from downtown Eugene, Mt. Pisgah rises from the Willamette River’s middle fork. It’s a favorite hiking destination, and the main attraction of the Howard Buford Recreation Area, which also boasts a beautiful arboretum winding with trails.

For decades Wildish Land Company has owned approximately seven miles of waterfront property—1400 acres total—adjacent to the recreation area. Walking through the arboretum, listening to the notes of Swainson’s Thrush spiral through live oak, one follows the river and gazes across at more open space—Wildish-owned land.

Now Wildish, enabled by Measure 37, has filed a claim to the tune of $15 million, envisioning hundreds of homes on its stretch of Willamette waterfront. The company says the property would be worth $21 million developed. The land’s current value—limited by a land use designation for agriculture, forestry, and gravel mining—is only $5.6 million.

Saving the property from development and making it a public appendage to the Howard Buford Recreation Area would probably require a successful bond measure that would raise $15 million for conservation—assuming the Wildish accounting is correct. Is it worth it?

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  • A development across the river would signal a missed opportunity to secure more open space in Lane County. It would also forever change the value of the existing park. What for years has been a quiet reserve—a place to wander and hear birds—would suddenly be invaded by the cheeping sounds of construction, a taking in its own right. In the long-term, the arboretum’s ambience would be very different.

    In today’s issue of the Register-Guard, its editors take a stand for saving the Wildish lands, concluding:

    The Wildish property presents a test as momentous as the one Eugene faced in the 1930s, when a public purchase saved Spencer Butte from logging. That act is now regarded as a far-sighted act of civic heroism. It’s time to prove that such acts are possible today.

    Of course, it’s important to stand on the other side of the Willamette, to see the Wildish Land case from another perspective. The Wildish Land Company is a fourth-generation family business, and the acres enumerated in their claim account for half of their holdings. Perhaps, ultimately, Wildish’s claim should be seen as an immense opportunity for Lane County. It could finally push forward an addition to the Willamette Greenway that’s been under discussion since 1973.

    Lane County citizens and leaders now must search for a creative way to make this green hope a realization. They might take note of Deschutes County’s solution to a similar situation. In December, Deschutes County created a Community Conservation Authority to issue the bonds needed to purchase a tree farm twenty-times the size of the Wildish piece. The property is now managed as a sustainable forest, helping to pay for the community’s investment.

    Lane County has a rare chance to act in the name of conservation. Let’s hope they find the means to leave a lasting—and Wildish—legacy.