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Spence Mountain is one step closer to becoming a community forest managed by Klamath County after the Trust for Public Lands received $435,000 from a National Fish and Wildlife Foundation Acres for America grant to go toward the purchase of the 7,500-acre property.

TPL is also looking for a grant award of $2.5 million from the U.S. Forest Service Forest Legacy Program and was one of the three proposals selected by the Oregon Department of Forestry to more forward to national review.

TPL needs about $6 million to purchase the land from the current owner, and the NFWF award was the first major grant the project received, according to Kristin Kovalik the Oregon Director of Land Protection for the TPL.

According to a TPL document, “Acquisition of this land will permanently protect access to the trail network, and help the community strengthen their recreation economy and commitment to physical health, while also managing the health of the forest.”

Kovalik said the state Forest Service is submitting the Spence Mountain proposal for national review along with two other projects totaling $10 million in requested funds for state forest projects.

Kovalik said they’ve received a lot of support from the community, including letters, and they “remain optimistic and do everything we can.”

U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden also wrote to support the Spence Mountain federal Forest Service grant proposal in a Nov. 18 letter to the department chief Vicki Christiansen.

In the letter they wrote, “Spence Mountain is the last block of privately owned land on the west side of the Klamath Lake, and contains six state strategy habitats that support federally listed wildlife, birds, fish, and plants. This project would allow sustainable timber harvest for economic benefits as well as wildlife protection and climate resiliency.”

Awards for the U.S. Forest Service grant will be announced spring of next year, Kovalik said.

The organization has until next fall to meet certain benchmarks to purchase the land, she said, but she’s hoping they have the funding secured in its entirety by then and will be able to purchase the forest land.

Once the TPL purchases the property, Kovalik said they will convey it to Klamath County to manage it with the help of the Klamath Trails Alliance and that the TPL will develop a forest management plan as guidance for the care of the trails and wildlife habitats on the land. The Klamath Trails Alliance will be stewards of the land, developing trails and maintaining existing ones.

“The Klamath Trails Alliance, Klamath County and other local groups are working to establish a community forest that fully values outdoor recreation as an asset,” said the TPL document. “Establishing a new mountain biking destination in southern Oregon has the potential to draw thousands of regional and out‐of‐state visitors to the area annually. This builds on Klamath’s Falls vision for its future, which marries a growing local economy with rural charm and abundant natural beauty.”

The property hosts 35 miles of trails, according to Treasurer of the Klamath Trails Alliance Drew Honzel, and they plan for 65 miles, with 5 new miles to be constructed in 2020.