In park planning, the park should come first, visitors second

If you're frustrated that individual citizens may not be able to do much about the noise of Navy jets based on Whidbey Island, take heart that you may be able to do something about another neighbor to the south: Deception Pass State Park.

Deception Pass State Park is Washington's sixth-largest park and its most-visited, with millions of people roaming its beaches and paths each year. Park officials know that number will only grow, and they are looking forward a decade or so to find ways to handle the crowds and protect the park. Since part of Deception Pass State Park lies on Fidalgo Island, planners are looking here for some of their options.

In advance of a public meeting at 9 a.m. Friday in Anacortes City Hall, park planners have identified six mega-issues and their recommended options for addressing them. We'll summarize these here:

1) You can't get there from here: Most options include limiting vehicle traffic in the park and developing public transit access.

2) Knowing where you are: Options include everything from information kiosks to a major visitor center as a park "portal."

3) Protect and serve: Options generally include limiting park use to existing developed areas.

4) How do you manage this place? Options include housing for park rangers, one or more "contact stations" for camping areas, and finding the best location for park administration and maintenance facilities, perhaps even outside the park.

5) The new CCC's -- comfort, convenience, commerce: Options include increased food concessions, development of overnight cabins in or near the park, increased sale of interpretive materials in and out of the park, and establishment of a boat shuttle among park properties, including Bowman Bay and Rosario and Cornet Bay.

6) Historic landscape design matters: Options include various levels of commitment to the original Civilian Conservation Corps facilities at Bowman's Bay.

On the face of it, most of these options appear generally benign and may truly enhance the park experience for visitors. We are wary, however, of any changes made to that part of the park located on Fidalgo Island, particularly if the are designed simply to channel park visitors here to take pressure off the Whidbey Island side of the park.

We can appreciate State Parks' challenge in trying to satisfy a growing public hunger for places like Deception Pass State Park. It's a real jewel that's worth preserving.

But in developing the park to satisfy the growing demand, planners must ensure that the ensuing development doesn't simply make an existing problem larger in scope.

As users of the federal park system are starting to learn, more isn't necessarily better when all it does is draw more crowds to an already stressed park. Yosemite, Yellowstone and other heavily used parks have lots of infrastructure and lots of customers to use it. Trouble is, that heavy use is ultimately detrimental to the natural elements that constitute the park itself.

So let's be careful that, in an attempt to satisfy visitor demand for Deception Pass State Park, we don't destroy the part of the park that has real park value in our selfish quest for human convenience and comfort.

-- Duncan Frazier