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Sept. 21, 2021

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Clark County seeks input on master plan update for 78th Street Heritage Farm

By , Columbian staff writer
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Winter sun illuminates the sign Tuesday morning at the 78th Street Heritage Farm, which is upgrading its outdated master plan and soliciting advice from the community about how it should operate in the future.
Winter sun illuminates the sign Tuesday morning at the 78th Street Heritage Farm, which is upgrading its outdated master plan and soliciting advice from the community about how it should operate in the future. Amanda Cowan/The Columbian Photo Gallery

Clark County is asking its residents to help refocus the aging master plan of the 78th Street Heritage Farm, hoping to turn an eye to the future without losing sight of the “heritage” part.

Through an online survey, a series of open houses and planning sessions, and collaboration with the Clark County Council, the farm should have a honed master plan in place within four months.

“I think it’ll be a modest update to the master plan, but important,” said Patrick Lee, a program coordinator with Clark County Public Works. “Because once you have the updated master plan in hand, you can begin to look for revenue sources to implement portions of that plan.”

The 78th Street Heritage Farm is a 79-acre site in Hazel Dell, off Northeast 78th Street just west of Northeast 25th Avenue.

It was founded in the 1870s as the county poor farm — a resource, for people with no other way to survive, developed during a time when counties, not state or federal welfare programs, cared for society’s most vulnerable. Some of its former residents are buried on the property.

Since then, the land has taken on multiple forms and uses.

The two-story building and surrounding acres remained a poor farm until Washington State University transformed the site into a research station in 1949, where agricultural scientists developed and tested crops such as raspberries and blueberries. The station remained in operation until 2008 when it was returned to Clark County, which uses it to house the WSU Clark County Extension office and for community and other gardens. WSU still operates some research on the site through a contract with the county.

In April 2010, the county launched a new master plan for the 78th Street Heritage Farm, with a vision that “the farm will be an accessible agricultural, educational and recreational community asset that reflects the area’s history and provides a healthy, sustainable environment for future generations.”

That mission requires a delicate balancing act between the sometimes conflicting interests for the farm — public access doesn’t always jibe with research, which doesn’t always jibe with historic preservation. And all those interests are competing for funding from the county and from outside resources, like grants.

“This is not a park, it’s supposed to be a somewhat working farm,” said Doug Stienbarger, the county extension director. “So you can’t have unfettered public access.”

“I think the place has a great potential. I hope that things will work out. It’s all about funding,” Stienbarger added.

A lot has changed at the site since its current master plan was implemented in 2010. Hazel Dell Community Park, which abuts the south side of the farm, is set to expand by 5 acres into a patch of land the master plan had allocated to farm space.

“That, in the master plan, was a site for a learning center and children’s garden. If that’s still an idea people are interested in at the farm, we need to look for an alternate location,” Lee said.

In 2011, the farm added an interpretive trail — a winding pedestrian path through the site with 10 stations that detail the history of the property. In 2012, the site joined the Washington Heritage Register.

Since the original master plan was adopted, the county also paved a parking lot west of the main building and constructed a greenhouse.

“Those are all elements that are relatively new,” Lee said.

Balancing the research, community and historic value of the property requires a check-in, he added. The master plan update will also allow the county to start pursuing more self-sustaining or revenue-generating activities at the farm, ideally through public and private partnerships. Those would help cover the cost of maintaining a 150-year-old property — a hefty expense. In 2018, the county put together a preservation and maintenance plan detailing the condition of each of the site’s structures and the cost of repairing them.

“It’s fairly significant. Certainly not money the county has to throw at it, at this point,” Lee said.

“What are some ideas people may have about how to bring in revenue to the farm? Hopefully we’ll get some feedback on that, as well.”

The master plan updating process kicked off with a community open house held on Jan. 31 at the Public Service Center at 1300 Franklin St. in Vancouver. Around 65 people attended the event and offered feedback, Lee said.

On Feb. 28, the Heritage Farm Advisory Team is scheduled to meet and develop draft recommendations for the plan update to be presented to the Clark County Council on April 24.

If all goes according to schedule, the Clark County Council is set to adopt the master plan update on June 11.

Until then, the county is soliciting public comment on the master plan upgrades. Another community open house is set for April 10 to review the draft recommendations.

Residents can also take an online survey available at the county’s website, www.clark.wa.gov/public-works.

Columbian staff writer
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