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Dunn, Balducci announce Conservation Futures grant for Bellevue’s Cougar Mountain Connection project

July 31, 2023

King County Councilmembers Reagan Dunn and Claudia Balducci on Monday announced that King County is awarding $9,247,500 to the City of Bellevue to support its Cougar Mountain Connections project, which aims to acquire and conserve 18 acres of land adjacent to the Coal Creek Natural Area.

“The Cougar Mountain Connections project is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to conserve our green space, fill in a critical wildlife corridor, and preserve local history while also adding more trails to one of our region’s most popular hiking destinations,” Dunn said. “I am proud to support this effort. Thank you to Save Coal Creek for highlighting the need to conserve these lands for generations to come and to the City of Bellevue for working to make this project a reality.”

In April, Dunn and Balducci authored a joint letter to the Conservation Futures Advisory Committee to express their support for the project. 

“I am thrilled that King County is stepping up to support the preservation of this unique property in partnership with the City of Bellevue,” Balducci said. “The public advocacy for saving the Swanson property has been unequivocal and inspiring, showing how deeply our community cares about conservation of natural environment, safety for trail users and preservation of our region’s history. I’m glad to be part of this effort for the benefit of our residents and our environment.”

Funded through the King County Conservation Futures Tax Levy, the Cougar Mountain Connections project seeks to fill the gaps between trail segments and private properties. The project would make trail connections in the Lakemont trail system, Lakemont and Lewis Creek Community Parks, and to over 35 miles of trails in Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park. It would also allow the City of Bellevue to expand capacity of the Red Town trailhead and provide parking for local hikers. In addition to these trail benefits, the project would conserve the full wildlife corridor and existing woodlands for public use.

“Thank you to King County for the significant Conservation Futures contribution,” Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson said. “We are always looking to bolster our image as a ‘city in a park,’ and we also wish to preserve our mining heritage where we can. This generous funding could make it possible to do both. Thank you to Save Coal Creek too for raising awareness about this opportunity.”

Several private properties along Lakemont Boulevard SE are entirely surrounded by public open space, lying between the Coal Creek Natural Area and Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park. Two of these properties are currently under review for a controversial single family home development of up to 35 units, making them the most urgent parcels to conserve. In addition, one of the parcels slated for potential development contains the former home of Milt Swanson, one of the last Newcastle coal miners, meaning that if the City of Bellevue can acquire the property, it would also conserve an important piece of our region’s coal mining heritage.

The idea to acquire the property for public benefit was led by the citizen group Save Coal Creek, which has led the charge to conserve these parcels of land.

“Save Coal Creek is grateful to Councilmembers Dunn and Balducci and Bellevue Mayor Lynne Robinson for supporting the effort to preserve this land and to City of Bellevue leaders who recognized the significance of these parcels,” said Sally Lawrence, chair of the Save Coal Creek steering committee. “With the imminent conclusion of the permit process for the parcels, now is the time to complete their acquisition. We are hopeful that city and county will work successfully with the landowners to add these important parcels to Coal Creek Natural Area that will benefit the public for generations.

King County’s Conservation Futures program that seeks to preserve natural lands and urban green spaces in King County. For more information, visit the King County Conservation Futures website.