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Land north of Smith Rock to remain undeveloped

By Kate Ramsayer
Bend Bulletin
December 28, 2007

A piece of land north of Smith Rock State Park that stretches along the east side of the Crooked River for more than a mile will be permanently free of development, protecting views and wildlife habitat, under an agreement between the Deschutes Basin Land Trust and the property’s owners.

“Smith Rock is a really iconic state landmark,” said Brad Chalfant, executive director of the Land Trust. “There were a couple of fears that this property was going to be developed, and it would have an impact on the views around Smith Rock.”

The agreement is a conservation easement in which the Ranch at the Canyons, the landowner, has donated the development rights for the 550-acre parcel to the land trust.

“Nothing can ever be developed on that property,” Chalfant said.

If the site had been developed, it would have had a significant impact on both wildlife habitat and the views that visitors to the park enjoy, he said.

“You’d be standing up on the ridge that constitutes Smith Rock State Park, looking north, and you’d see development below you,” Chalfant said.

The undeveloped land also will be good for wildlife such as deer, elk, cougar and hawks that hunt and perch on the cliffs, he said. The spot is part of the winter range for mule deer, but also serves as a wildlife corridor between neighboring Bureau of Land Management, Crooked River National Grassland, the Crooked River Canyon and state parkland.

“Smith Rock State Park gets a lot of public use, it’s one of the higher use state parks around, and that tends to displace wildlife,” Chalfant said. “And these canyons back in there, the Crooked River Canyon and the Sherwood Canyon that comes off of it, serves as a safe haven for wildlife.”

The Ranch at the Canyons, a 1,700-acre development, announced plans to partner with the Deschutes Basin Land Trust on this spot in 2004, but finalizing the agreements can take some time, Chalfant said.

The developers approached the Land Trust with the idea for an easement, he said.

“It’s just a way to protect the land,” said Jim Gardner, founding partner and chairman of Ranch at the Canyons. “It’s good for the park, and it’s good for us, because we look up the canyon and don’t want to develop it.”

The development, which features orchards and vineyards, includes plans for up to 60 homes, and some sites are selling for more than $1 million.

It’s a “conservation ranch,” Gardner said, in which all the old farmland and open space is protected, including hay fields and eight vintage orchards. “We basically follow a philosophy of design with history and nature.”

Previously, the developers had proposed a $500 million destination resort called Rimrock Resort for the site, but those plans resulted in a lot of opposition, he said. There were zoning issues and debates over whether more resorts were desirable in the area.

The resort would have been within three miles of high-quality farmland in Jefferson County, which is against state land use regulations, and efforts to pass legislation to ease the rules failed, according to previous Bulletin reports.

The developers figured they had another “very, very attractive option,” Gardner said, to balance development of individual houses with open spaces and protect some of the four canyons on the property, and switched plans in 2000.

The Deschutes Basin Land Trust is also working with other landowners in the Smith Rock and Crooked River areas to protect more of the land in the area, Chalfant said. In this case, because there isn’t development on the east side of the river between the park and the federal lands, the project was one to focus on, he said.

“To try to keep that undeveloped and available to wildlife struck us as a really high priority,” he said.