Red Mountain has changed significantly in the past several decades, most notably with the number of wineries calling it home.
Perhaps it’s the southwest slope that provides the vineyards with more hours of sunlight, or the proximity to the river providing a constant and natural cool air stream to stave off frost damage. Regardless, ever since Kiona Vineyards pioneered grape growing in the area in the 1970s, Red Mountain has grown in popularity—and investors have taken notice, much to the chagrin of some locals.
Sarah Goedhart’s parents planted grapes on Red Mountain in 1990 for Hedges Family Estate, and she and her husband, Brent, run their own Red Mountain winery, Goedhart Family, on Sunset Lane, not too far from Hedges.
Before calling Red Mountain home, Goedhart studied chemistry at the University of California, Santa Barbara, while managing the tasting room for a winery. She brought the experience she gained in Sonoma County when she moved back to Eastern Washington in 2005, as well as a passion for preserving the history of the mountain she loves.
“In Sonoma, they were doing a Save the Ridgeline campaign, and when I moved out here and saw the houses on the ridgeline, I thought, ‘That’s happening here, too.’ And I thought it’d be a shame if they developed the top of Red Mountain,” she said.
Goedhart got to work, writing letters to all of the Red Mountain landowners. During her legwork to find names and numbers, she learned Red Mountain Ridgeline owns almost 140 acres. And, as it turned out, one of the owners in the company was a family friend.
“I tried to say, ‘Come down a little bit from the top of the ridge, and save the top of the mountain for community use.’ He was pretty open to that,” she said.
But soon her hopes were dashed when her contact moved overseas, and Goedhart said she has not had the same response from principal owner, Cameron Myhrvold.
“He doesn’t even live out here. He’s just developing it for profit,” she said of Myhrvold, who helped found Ignition Partners, in Bellevue. “(Red Mountain Ridgeline has) put a big pump station on the mountain, and there’s a huge cyclone fence. It’s starting to look kind of ugly. Now out of my backyard, I see a Porta Potti.”
Multiple attempts to reach Myhrvold for comment via email and phone were unsuccessful.
Unwilling to lose hope, Goedhart reached out to the Friends of Badger Mountain, a group dedicated to preserving local ridges.
Early this year, the group’s attorney, Shea Meehan, a partner at Walker Heye Meehan & Eisinger in Richland, drafted an agreement to establish public pedestrian access on Red Mountain’s ridgeline. The 20-mile trail would start at Antinori Road near Quintessence Vineyards in Benton City — which Goedhart noted was willing to donate an acre for parking — and it would end at the Yakima River.
Meehan said the trail likely would have been four feet wide, but the easement proposed was wider.
“This was not a purchase proposed. Instead, we hoped to rely on the combination of generosity and self-interest of the landowners,” he said, adding that they believed the landowners would be interested in attracting people to the Red Mountain area for recreation and tourism.
The easement would be granted to Benton County and would not allow bicycles, horses or pets—with the exception of service animals.
Red Mountain Ridgeline would not be obligated to maintain the easement or trails, as that would be handled by Friends of Badger Mountain, Goedhart said.
“The county said, ‘We’ll own it, but you will need to do the payments for the trail work and upkeep,’ and Friends of Badger Mountain and the Red Mountain AVA Alliance out here said, “ ‘We’re totally willing to do the work and pay for it,’ ” Goedhart said.
Out of all of the landowners affected by the easement, one still refused.
“Mr. Myhrvold simply stated that he “wasn’t interested” in granting an easement across the land,” said Meehan, who explained that Friends of Badger Mountain would have to determine if feasible alternatives exist. “And hope that Mr. Myhrvold will have a change of heart.”
Goedhart said the Red Mountain AVA Alliance and the wine industry are a tightknit community, which is why it surprised her that Myhrvold has planted vineyards but does not want to support the group’s master plan to create a community trail.
“If he wants to utilize our community for his benefit, he should give back. We have vineyards, too, but we’ve also left some land for native species. If everything gets planted, you lose out on the native plants and wildlife that’s important here,” she said. “The ridgeline is the lifeblood of this community, and I think compromise is the way to go. We’re losing what the history of the region is all about.”
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