Updated November 24, 2020
The Finn Hill Green Loop is a long-term project to connect Finn Hill’s parks and green spaces into a continuous woodland pathway that will circle the crown of Finn Hill and ultimately connect to nearby parks and trails such as Juanita Beach, the Cross Kirkland Corridor and the Burke Gilman Trail in Bothell. The loop will be not only a local asset but a regional one as well, expanding the reach of existing Finn Hill parks and adding to a network of trails linking municipalities on the Eastside. (See Figure 1.)
While the Green Loop vision is ambitious, the principal building blocks are already in place. St. Edward Park, Big Finn Hill Park, O.O. Denny Park and Juanita Woodlands Park occupy the western side of Finn Hill. The eastern and southern flanks of the hill are dotted with woodlands on steep slopes and ravines, many of which have already been dedicated to open space; Juanita Heights Park on the southeastern summit of the hill is a keystone for connecting the neighborhood to Juanita Beach and the parkland that rings the shores of Juanita Bay. (Figure 2.)
Our immediate objective is to acquire, or negotiate easements over, the remaining vacant land on Finn Hill that is critical to connecting these parks and dedicated open spaces. In the decades to come, as residential properties undergo redevelopment, the City of Kirkland can fill in gaps by arranging for easements or land acquisitions on an opportunistic basis.
The City has already endorsed the Green Loop by incorporating it into its Comprehensive Plan. It has partnered with the Finn Hill Neighborhood Alliance (FHNA) to apply for Conservation Futures Trust funds for the Green Loop project; some of these funds have already been spent, with matching contributions from the City and FHNA, to expand Juanita Height Park to create the Billy Goat Trail (see below).
The King County park levy that the voters approved in 2019 also includes funding that is dedicated specifically to land acquisitions for the Finn Hill Green Loop. The park levy proceeds are expected to amount to $2.4 million between 2021 and 2026. The City will administer the application of these funds to property purchases, and it foresees creating a master plan for the Green Loop beginning in 2022. But the City and FHNA both recognize that it’s important to seize opportunities to buy critical open space even before the master plan can be completed.
FHNA is presently pursuing the acquisition of parcels needed to protect O.O. Denny Creek near Big Finn Hill Park and to complete a trail from Juanita Heights Park to Juanita Beach (the Billy Goat Trail). We also want to protect parts of parcels on the eastern side of Finn Hill and in the Holmes Point area (on the western side of the hill) using conservation easements, enabling the landowners who grant the easements to reduce their local property taxes and claim federal income tax deductions. (Figure 3.)
Billy Goat Trail
The Billy Goat Trail is the first phase of the Green Loop. It will connect Juanita Heights Park on the southeastern shoulder of Finn Hill (aka Goat Hill) to Juanita Bay. (Figure 4.) Working with FHNA, the City obtained $535,000 in grants from King County’s Conservation Futures Trust (CFT) to expand Juanita Heights Park to the south, toward the bay. In 2018, the City completed purchases of parcels in what is now the center of the park and its new southern border. These acquisitions cost $620,00; CFT funds covered half of the price, the City funded another $260,000, and FHNA contributed $50,000 (raised from Finn Hill residents).
This year, FHNA signed a purchase agreement to acquire a small parcel near the base of Goat Hill that is essential to creating a trail from the bay to Juanita Heights Park. FHNA is now talking to City staff about arranging for the City to buy this parcel. FHNA and City staff are also discussing an opportunity to purchase properties, now on the market, that lie between this parcel and Juanita Heights Park. With these acquisitions, the trail will be complete. We can then focus on negotiating open space easements over vacant woodland properties sited to the north of Juanita Heights Park and to the southwest.
Big Finn Hill Park expansion/Denny Creek preservation: We have an opportunity to expand Big Finn Hill Park to the south and preserve the upper reach of O.O. Denny Creek. (Figure 6.)
Using funds donated by Finn Hill residents for the Green Loop, FHNA entered earlier this year into a purchase agreement for a 0.8 acre parcel that is located near Big Finn Hill Park and is bisected by a segment of Denny Creek. See triangular Winski parcel shown in Fig. 5. The City has agreed to replace the FHNA purchase agreement with its own acquisition contract; it expects to purchase the property soon and will be reimbursed in 2021 with King County park levy funds.
Although the Winski parcel is small, it is critically important both because Denny Creek flows through it and because it is bordered by 3 parcels that, if also acquired in the future, would provide a seamless connection to Big Finn Hill Park to the north and to the west, across Juanita Drive. FHNA is now talking to the owners of these lots, who have who have stated that they would like to sell the lots to an entity that would dedicate them for park use. This will be an expensive acquisition, but we are pleased to note that King County Council member Rod Dembowski has shown his support for the purchase by sponsoring the designation of $500,000 in the County budget for such a transaction. FHNA will work with the County and, we hope, other partners to raise additional funds to preserve these properties as permanent green space.
Conservation easements: In October, FHNA used Green Loop funds donated by neighborhood residents to purchase a small parcel that will serve as a trailhead on the eastern side of Finn Hill’s Green Loop (Furlong parcel, Figure 6). This parcel borders lots to the north held by other property owners that have obtained local property tax reductions in exchange for dedicating their land to open space use (per King County’s Public Benefit Rating System or PBRS) and through zoning changes. The parcel is also near open space tracts owned by the City. We view this small lot as the linchpin to a trail system on the eastern side of Finn Hill, starting from Juanita Heights Park and extending north to Simonds Road.
FHNA is also pursuing easements over wooded parts of properties on the western side of Finn Hill, in the Holmes Point Neighborhood that would protect a contiguous natural space from the lakeside to the summit of the hill. The easements would be bordered by tracts that are already dedicated as open space. The city has included pedestrian trails in the vicinity of this area as part of its citywide connections project under the policy of improving the safety of walking in Kirkland, and FHNA believes that easements over the wooded areas of these properties will protect the natural state of this critical area that sits between O. O. Denny Park to the south in Holmes Point, Big Finn Hill county park to the east and St. Edward State Park to the north.
An important element in our efforts to negotiate open space easements is the ability for landowners to qualify for federal income tax deductions available for grants of conservation easements to land conservancies. In 2021, FHNA’s plans either to qualify itself as a land conservancy or to partner with an established land conservancy to manage open space.
We are excited about and deeply grateful for support that our Green Loop efforts have received from the City of Kirkland and from King County. But we would not have earned this support without strong backing from Finn Hill residents.
Your contributions to the Green Loop project over the years has shown elected officials that you want to see this vision realized. As importantly, the funds you have contributed have enabled us to put deposits on properties that we need for the Green Loop, giving us time to work with our local government partners to arrange for the final acquisition of those properties.
To continue our progress, we’ll need both additional governmental assistance and continued community support. We can’t assume that public agencies will underwrite the Green Loop completely. We have to finance some of this project ourselves.
So, please contribute to our Green Loop efforts here on our donation page. Your donations are tax deductible and they will be applied to ensure that the Finn Hill neighborhood will be green, healthy and inviting for generations to come.