The city of Blaine will turn 500 acres of open space into a nature preserve with trails and eventually a nature center.
The city has hired an outside firm to draft a concept plan for the land near the intersection of 109th Avenue NE. and Lexington Avenue NE. The first walking trails and a parking lot could be open to nature lovers by the fall of 2015. It will be the largest nature preserve in the city.
The city already owns the land and is currently restoring wetlands. The property, which is bordered by neighborhoods to the north and west, is about 60 percent wetlands with some upland areas with stands of trees.
"It will be a destination and an education center. It could be a jewel for the city," said Jim Hafner, Blaine's stormwater manager and the staff liaison for the city's Natural Resources Conservation Board. "It will preserve some open space in the city and show the predevelopment condition of the city. It will also be available for the passive enjoyment of the public."
Relishing a quiet moment in nature and catching a glimpse of wildlife, including deer, fox, turkeys and songbirds, will be the draw.
"Some of the trail loops will be ADA accessible. Others will be soft — crushed gravel or wood chips. There may be some boardwalks," Hafner said.
A tentative long-range plan calls for the construction of a nature center by 2020. The trails and building construction could cost an estimated $1 million.
"Our goal is to build a nature center that would tie in with the overall educational potential for the site," Hafner said. "There are lots of native plant species there that are just incredible."
The wetland restoration projects are costing the city around $1.2 million.
Blaine is paying for the project with the city's open space and trails fund, which is funded by park dedication fees generated from new residential development. Tax dollars are not going to the project, Hafner said.
The city could actually make money on the restoration because the state awards it wetland credits, which can be sold to developers. Under state law, wetlands destroyed or disrupted by new development need to be replaced. Developers can buy wetland credits to achieve that goal.
Last summer, another piece of land in Blaine was dedicated as a preserve, in this case by the state Department of Natural Resources. The 63 acres of prairie and wetland became the state's 159th Scientific and Natural Area, lands set aside to preserve their distinctive features. The Blaine SNA is located along Lovell Road NE., between Interstate 35W and Lexington Avenue.