Commissioners Endorse Groups’ Use of Howe Farm

The Kitsap County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday gave the go-ahead to three groups who want to collaborate on their activities at Howe Farm.
South Kitsap School District hopes to use the 83-acre county park as an open air learning lab for its agriculture students. WSU Kitsap County Extension wants to hold gardening and other horticulture classes there, and Kitsap Dog Parks Inc. would like to develop trails and an off-leash area for dog owners.
All three commissioners seemed to favor the proposal, and they instructed representatives of the groups to continue working toward an agreement that can later be cemented with a resolution of the board.

The plan has received the seal of approval from the county’s Parks Advisory Board. Michael Tucker, a member of that group, spoke at the commissioners’ work study session Wednesday. He said there was strong community support at the advisory board’s Feb. 21 meeting for what began as the school district’s idea. But a few people at the meeting protested the proposal, saying they want the park left as it is, he noted.
Thomas Mosby, South Kitsap’s director of career and technical education, explained to the commissioners that having access to Howe Farm would allow the district to expand its agriculture program and 4H club activities. Classes to be held at the farm are already taking place at the high school and two junior highs. But on the farm, students would be able to raise large farm animals, including cattle and horses, Mosby said. Fencing would be provided by the district to protect sensitive areas.
Working with WSU’s master gardeners, students could do field research on a range of topics related to agriculture and natural resources. Plans, to be phased in over time, call for a barn and livestock pens, a salmon hatchery and aquiculture study area and gardens whose produce would be sold at a student-run market. There also would be an outdoor turf grass lab and areas for studying forestry and stream management.
Mosby said the district’s plan is “a great fit” with the intent of the park’s stewardship committee, which established a vision for how the land would be used after it was acquired by the county.
Representatives of WSU Kitsap County Extension were not at the meeting but Joe Hedstrom of Kitsap Dog Parks Inc., said his group welcomes the chance to work with the others toward an agreement that will allow people with diverse interests to share the park.
“From the beginning, South Kitsap Dog Parks has been a proponent of the high school proposal,” said Hedstrom. “Unfortunately, we came into this at the eleventh hour.”
Hedstrom noted his group has had some frustration in the past of feeling excluded from planning for the park.
“People still have that taste in their mouth. They weren’t included,” he said. “Clearly now it’s moved on from that.”
A portion of the park is designated as an off-leash area, but the fencing hasn’t been maintained. Hedstrom said he’s recently heard concerns from some people, not necessarily affiliated with his group, who use the park to exercise their dogs.
“Word got out among dog owners we’re going to lose the park, and that couldn’t be farther from the truth,” Hedstrom said.
Scott Hall, a charter member of the stewardship committee sent an e-mail to the Kitsap Sun saying he respects South Kitsap Dog Parks Inc., and the work they have done at the Bandix Road dog park, also on county land. But he’s not so sure Howe Farm is the best place for another dog park because he’s worried about the sensitivity of the land. He would like to work with Hedstrom’s group to develop a “multi-use canine activity center in the greater Port Orchard area.” He also would like to see the high school’s activities limited to conserve most of Howe Farm as a “natural resource.”
Hall added he doesn’t support the current unrestricted use of Howe Farm by dog owners.
“Howe Farm was ‘available’ for off-leash use in some persons’ eyes because we had not yet begun major implementations of the master plan for the property,” he said. “When enforcement of their infractions was not swiftly forthcoming, they mistakenly took that as a sign of acceptance for their actions.”

2 thoughts on “Commissioners Endorse Groups’ Use of Howe Farm

  1. I’m so excited and happy for Thomas Mosby and the students who want to pursue agricultural and 4-H programs and will have Howe Farm as their open air learning lab. The inclusion of WSU’s Kitsap County Extension is a perfect fit. How wonderful! Makes me wish I was a High School student at SK again! (Not telling anyone how long ago that was!)

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