Community offers support for state park booster group
December 19, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
State officials laid the groundwork Dec. 10 for a community organization to support Lake Sammamish State Park as residents met to consider lifelines for the cash-strapped park.
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission listened to ideas for the facility from about 50 attendees at a Tibbetts Creek Manor open house, and received information from about 25 attendees interested in participating in a community organization to support the park.
The event, hosted by the city of Issaquah and the state parks agency, launched a discussion about future ventures at Lake Sammamish State Park and what residents hope to see on the park’s 512 acres.
In 2007, state parks commissioners approved a bold plan to remake and restore the park, but the economic downturn and state budget crises curtailed dollars to implement the plan.
Options to improve the park could include a partnership between the state parks agency, city and a nonprofit organization.
“It’s got to be financially sustainable. We have to take care of the 312-plus acres that’s not in developed parts of the park, that’s the natural portion of the park,” Peter Herzog, a longtime parks planner for the state parks commission, told open house attendees. “We have to think about the sustainability, in terms of how we treat the landscape as we move forward.”
The existing park structures reflect the wear of decades and the state’s inability to fund major improvements in recent years.
The state parks agency is open to commercial ventures on parkland as a potential way to raise dollars for upgrades, but interest in the proposals outlined in the 2007 did not attract much interest from potential financial supporters.
“For the enterprise sorts of things, I think one of the key pieces is now doing outreach to the private sector to say, ‘What of this plan actually resonates as something that the private sector might be interested in taking on?’” Herzog said in a follow-up interview.
The ideas discussed at the open house included a community organization similar to the Bridle Trails Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to support the 482-acre state park in Kirkland.
The organization has raised more than $1.5 million for Bridle Trails State Park since 2002. The 40-year agreement between the Bridle Trails Park Foundation and the state parks agency ensures the park remains open if the nonprofit organization pays half of operating expenses for the facility.
“It’s been a huge bonus to the park,” Park Ranger Mary Welborn said. ”It takes some dedicated people, but it doesn’t take gobs of people. It takes some people with vision, and it takes a lot of donors.”
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The agency and the nonprofit Washington State Parks Foundation set out to establish 10 groups statewide by June 2013 to commemorate the agency’s centennial to support individual state parks. The process to create such a group can last for up to a year.
Officials said attendees at the Lake Sammamish State Park open house should expect to hear more information soon about opportunities for community involvement at the park.
Other proposals suggested for the lakefront park included a disc golf course on park grounds, a boat storage facility, a zipline and more.
Herzog said any proposals for the park must take into account the location and sensitive habitat inside park boundaries.
“This is not something that’s Steptoe Butte out somewhere in Eastern Washington,” he added, referring to a state park in Whitman County. “This is right in the middle of a thriving urban setting.”
The proximity to Issaquah led city leaders to focus on the park in recent years.
The open house stemmed from a pact approved in June by the Issaquah City Council and the state parks agency to “explore opportunities to improve community use” of park facilities, seek out funding to improve the park and dedicate staffers to develop recommendations for the park. The pact, or memorandum of understanding, is in effect through June 2013.
The council also listed the state park as a goal for 2013, but did put any dollars behind the effort.
The park design outlined in the 2007 plan focused on “green” building construction, and outlined plans for a bathhouse and concession facility near Sunset Beach, a lakeshore esplanade, or walkway, improved areas for swimming and other amenities.
The effort emphasized environmental education, and the plan included a boardwalk to the mouth of Issaquah Creek for parkgoers to watch migrating salmon.
Officials said the 2007 plan is a starting point for future ideas to upgrade the park.
Beyond the earlier proposal, “I can assure everybody here in the room that we have no plans today,” city Economic Development Director Keith Niven told open house attendees. “For those of you who already think we’ve hatched an idea and a plan, it does not exist.”
Residents can email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-902-8638 to learn more about a possible Lake Sammamish State Park community organization, or offer input about possible improvements to the park.