Saturday, December 09, 2023

A community campaign

| January 15, 2023 1:00 AM

SANDPOINT — All around town, little red-mitten magnets adorn a growing number of cars.

They are the latest effort by the Kaniksu Land Trust to raise awareness — and funds — for its campaign to purchase the historic sledding hill on Pine Street.

“I think the important thing to remember in this campaign is it's going to take every member of our community in order to pull this off,” Katie Cox, land trust executive director, said. “We have roughly $740,000 left to go and I can guarantee you that it's probably not going to come in three checks. It's probably going to come in 500 donations from individuals saying, ‘OK, it's now my time to give.’”

Described by land trust officials as the “front door” to the Pine Street Woods, the sledding hill was purchased by angel donors to give KLT time to raise the funds needed.

Kaniksu Land Trust previously bought a 160-acre section of the Weisz property, and in the fall of 2019, opened Pine Street Woods to the public. The family retained the 48-acre homestead with the historic ski and sled hill until Joe Weisz’s death in 2021. When the parcel was put up for sale, the community looked to KLT to preserve the beloved iconic property.

Set along Pine Street Loop, the parcel includes forest, meadows, a large pond and structures associated with a historic homestead. The most notable feature is the large hill that has served as a community recreation site for a half-century.

The fundraising campaign was launched during the Fourth of July parade to raise the $2.1 million needed to purchase the historic community skiing and sledding hill on West Pine Street.

Set along Pine Street Loop, this parcel includes forest, meadows, a large pond and structures associated with this historic homestead. The most notable feature is the large hill that has served as a community recreation site for a half-century.

Cox said that, with just over 11 months to go, the land trust has raised almost $1.4 million of the $2.1 million needed to purchase the 48-acre property and do the things necessary to open the property to the public.

That amount not only secures the site but helps fund a master plan for the entire 400-plus acres that includes the 180-acre Pine Street Woods as well the Sherwood Forest and VTT sites, both of which the public has access to through the land trust. It also will help fund parking and other "establishment costs" needed to make the property safe and fulfill KLT's vision — and that of the community — at the site.

While the group has until the end of November to raise the total needed, Cox said she hopes to raise the money before the deadline so they can begin work on “establishment projects,” including a parking lot, a road and a trail.

“We want to be able to open it for sledding for next year, but it means we do have to have a parking lot in place and access,” she added. “I'd love to see if we can get this fundraising down before November to give us that time.”

Cox said the land trust has received donations from more than 150 people so far in the campaign.

“I will not be surprised if we reach 500 contributors by the time that this is that because it's so important to so many people,” Cox said.

The land trust received what he called “some amazing end-of-year donations” from many residents and businesses.

The gifts, whether by big donation, grant or a dollar in change from a young sledding enthusiast’s piggybank, are indicative of the campaign being a community project.

The first neighborhood group has formed in the Hunt Lane area and is working hard to canvass their section and neighborhood, Cox said. The neighborhood has already begun canvassing the area to garner gifts for the sled hill campaign.

“Those types of efforts are so heartwarming,” she added, “because it's the community doing this as the community, people stepping forward and saying, ‘Let's save this. It's important to all of us.’”

The group’s efforts — and those of other neighborhood groups in the process of forming — help the land trust, both in exposure and in “people power,” Cox said.

“I think the ideal for KLT is that everybody in our community has a part in this campaign,” she added. “Whether it's a 5-year-old with the piggy bank with $1.10 in it, or it's the 60-year-old that wants to make a $10,000 stock gift, every single person has the opportunity to be a part of making this dream come true.”

The idea behind the neighborhood groups is to activate as many people as possible to help with the fundraising campaign, said Cox.

“Having ambassadors in the neighborhoods, working to help us make sure every person has an opportunity to give is going to allow us to increase the number of people who can participate in this project and just increase the general awareness in our community about the project,” she added.

The successful launch of the Hunt Lane group creates a framework for others in the process of forming. From a neighborhood letter to spreading the word among everyone they know.

“The beautiful thing is that many of them have gotten their adult children to participate,” Cox said. “So many of them don’t live here in Sandpoint but [the group] has gotten gifts from their children.”

In addition to donations from everyone from youngsters raiding their piggybanks to donations from people who learned to skill on the hill, KLT received a pair of major donations — one from Winter Ridge Natural Foods and the other from Idaho Forest Group to aid in the purchase of the sled hill.

Idaho Forest Group owner, Marc Brinkmeyer, has a passion for conservation, including preserving the local forest products heritage of North Idaho, Cox said.

Through partnerships with the land trust, IFG has been able to conserve forestland important to the community of Sandpoint and Bonner County. These areas provide the community not only recreational opportunities but also serve as natural classrooms to teach students about the importance of forest management and the history of sawmills in the area, Brinkmeyer said about why Idaho Forest Group donated.

“Conserving the forest products heritage of North Idaho is important for me, personally, and plays a key role in helping our students to understand how the industry — loggers, hauler and millworkers — has and will continue to be a key partner in not only managing healthy forests, but will see us as critical to address the pressing environmental challenges of our day,” he added.

The gift from Idaho Forest Group was significant and will help the land trust in its quest, Cox said.

“Our forestlands have contributed to the legacy of our region for generations. We are grateful for the partnership with Idaho Forest Group in protecting this heritage, be it for economic vitality or, in the case of the sled hill, for the pure enjoyment of our community,” she added. “Their visionary philanthropy and the priority they place in helping support community initiatives is heartwarming.”

Cox said the response to the campaign has been, and continues to be, supportive, with all segments of the community backing the trust’s efforts to buy the hill.

“It's a blast of positivity,” she added. “And it’s the community that is saying, like, ‘Oh, this should be no problem for us. We've got this.’”

That gives her hope that those words “will ring true” and that the trust will be able to raise the needed funds, Cox said.

“This will happen for us, and it's just gonna take everybody playing a part in it,” she added.

Cox encouraged those who support the trust’s purchase of the hill to reach out and get involved and to make a gift that is meaningful to them. She also encouraged community members to get involved, to rally their friends and neighbors as well as the businesses that they support. All donations, large and small, are going to be what it takes to make the dream of the sled hill a reality, she said.

Spending time outside in the winter at a place like the sled hill is the most accessible option and appeals to a large segment of the community.

“On days [when it’s cloudy and rainy], it's good to know that you can still do fun things outside,” Cox said.

To donate, go online to Donations can be made online, mailed in, or by stopping by the office, 1215 Michigan St., Suite A.


(Photo courtesy SHERI JONES)

Kids sledding at Pine Street Sled Hill in the winter of 2011.


(Courtesy photo)

Skiers take to a historic sledding and ski hill in the Pine Street Loop area. Now, thanks to supporters of the Kaniksu Land Trust who have the 48-parcel under contract, the land trust will have time to fundraise toward purchase of the property.


(Photo courtesy KANIKSU LAND TRUST)

A photo of the Weisz homestead in 2021.

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