Punchbowl grant a no-go

While the Port of Hood River’s proposal for a waterfront trail at Nichols Boat Basin will almost certainly receive funding, a county proposal to acquire 102 acres of land around Punchbowl Falls for a public park will almost certainly not.

Hood River County’s project was ranked 32 out of 36 proposals —including the port’s — around the state that were competing for funds doled out by the Oregon Park and Recreation Department’s Local Government Grant Program.

Western Rivers Conservancy, a Portland nonprofit that purchases rivers in the western United States for conservation purposes, acquired the majority of the Punchbowl Falls land, which is located near Dee, from PacifiCorp in 2010. The organization has been trying for the past few years to sell it to the county, with the intent of having the land preserved for public access as well as fish habitat.

The value of the land has been appraised at $1.1 million, but WRC had offered to sell it to the county for half its appraised value, with the suggestion that the county apply for LGGP funding. The county submitted a request for $578,000, which was the fourth-largest request of the 36 projects. Only the top nine are slated to receive funding. Mark Cowan, grant program coordinator for OPRD, said in an email to grant applicants that four of the nine projects that were successful this year in receiving funding were unsuccessful the previous year and that applicants “shouldn’t read a lot of significance into being ranked low on the priority list,” noting that the “point spread between mid-ranked projects and low-ranked projects is quite small.”

Phillip Wallin, vice president and cofounder of WRC, reported that the organization is still interested in selling the land to the county. He said WRC wants to continue working with the county to apply for the grant next year as well as to document the public’s current use of the land and to gather public input on what the park should look like.

“Punchbowl Falls is a good resource and we want to see it preserved,” Wallin said.

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