County to gauge property potential

Assessment could determine fate of Chilco Falls park

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The Kootenai County commissioners might yet sell the Chilco Falls park, officials confirmed this week, but first they plan to gauge the property's potential.

The elected officials have tapped the county Parks and Waterways director to assess whether various county-owned parcels should be sold, expanded or developed.

The Chilco Falls property, apparently the only local venue for ice climbing, will be included in the assessment, said Commissioner Jai Nelson.

Based on the director's findings, the commissioners will decide whether to keep the Chilco property or name their price.

"No decision has been made," said Nelson, who raised the idea last year of selling the roughly 12-acre parcel that attracts little use. "We may also do nothing."

The commissioners have criticized that the property, beloved by at least a handful of local ice climbers, is difficult to access and poorly maintained.

Money from selling the property could be used to enhance other parks, Nelson has stated.

She expects the commissioners will make a decision about the future of the property - visible from Highway 95 a half mile north of Chilco Road - in early summer.

The public will still get a say, confirmed county attorney Pat Braden.

The property was dedicated to the public in the early 1900s, Braden explained, so the commissioners must hold a plat vacation hearing before auctioning, selling or trading the property.

"Even if the commissioners decide to vacate the plat, that doesn't preclude them from using it as a park," Braden added.

The most vocal opposition to the property's sale has stemmed from ice climbers and the conservation nonprofit Kootenai Environmental Alliance.

Nelson said the commissioners have tried approaching a local ice climbing organization on the subject. Maybe that group could become the property's new owner, she said.

"They haven't presented anything," she said of efforts to connect with climbers on the idea.

Jason Baker, Hayden ice climber and member of Kootenai Klimbers, said the group wants the park to remain public land.

"It's not only a climbing area," Baker said. "If it was owned by a group, it's not public, open property."

He also worries that selling the parcel might deter others from donating land for public use, he said.

"The piece was given to the public," Baker said. "I don't see why it can't be maintained and be the way it is."

Parks and Waterways Director Nick Snyder said he will kick off his analysis of county parcels once the snow ebbs.

He doesn't know how many parcels will be included, he said. He plans to assess whether unused parcels - many of which the county acquired through tax deeds - have potential for recreation or other purposes.

"I have a feeling I'm going to get a great education of what we have county wide, and try to give a well thought-out recommendation to the county commissioners," he said.

It's tough to predict Chilco Falls' fate, Snyder said.

"It's an important park to those few who use it," he said. "It's going to be a decision made ultimately by the commissioners."

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