State panel ponders DP park's future here

Anacortes American 7/26/00

American news intern

Once a tree is cut, you can't get it back. The statement, spoken by a member of the audience at last Friday's meeting on Deception Pass State Park, was one of numerous public pleas for park preservation.

In the discussion over the future of Deception Pass, one thing became clear: locals cherish the park's natural beauty.

A major step in the planning process for the park took place last Friday when the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission held a meeting at Anacortes City Hall. As Deception Pass is the most-visited Washington State park, a long-range plan is crucial in determining how to balance human needs with natural preservation.

Parks planner Daniel Farber presented the commission with a list of recommendations regarding key park issues. The recommendations were developed by park staff, with input from three different consulting teams of park planners and architects.

The recommendations dealt with six main issues: traveling to and around the park, orientation, protecting natural resources, managing the park, comfort and convenience, and preserving the historical landscape. Sub-issues addressed choices for each option, with staff recommending "yes" or "no" for each.

The commission, after hearing from park staff and the public during Friday's meeting, could revise the recommendations. A "yes" means that the recommendations will be considered in future planning.

"The challenge is that Deception Pass is facing increasing demand," said Farber as he outlined the major issues to the commission. "To what degree do we commercialize our park?"

Deception Pass Park Manager Bill Overby addressed the commission as well, emphasizing the need to treat the park as a special place.

"I can leave my office, walk two minutes in any direction, and get totally rejuvenated," said Overby. "It's spiritual. I encourage you in your deliberation to look at your grandchildren's grandchildren's grandchildren."

The commission next opened the floor to the public. Like Overby, many local residents focused on the natural importance of the park.

"The park is full," said Lake Campbell resident Bob Bell. "If you accommodate more people, it's ruined."

"You should think about the value of leaving certain areas untouched," said Ginnett Road resident Laurie Sherman.

While public sentiment emphasized preservation over development, opinion varied over the proposed cross-island trail.

"I don't think that all 5.8 million visitors will use the trail," said Geri Krampetz, executive director of Pacific Northwest Trails Association. "It will be used by locals, or people staying in the park."

John Pope, an organizer of the cross-island trail, expressed his support for the project.

"We're in it for the greenbelt access," said Pope. "We want it to be a primitive trail."

Anacortes resident Jerry Rosenberg expressed reservation on how park staff would handle maintenance with a heavily used cross-island trail.

"In opening new trails, how will we deal with management issues?" Rosenburg asked.

The public also responded to an early comment by Commissioner Bob Petersen, who suggested that restaurant and lodge development might be beneficial. He reasoned that by leaving such development up to nearby private enterprise, the park would lose control of quality and design.

"There are plenty of places to eat in Oak Harbor and Anacortes," said one member of the public in response.

Steve Ellis, president of the Whidbey Audubon Society, acknowledged the difficulty of the commission's responsibility.

"You have the almost impossible task of balancing people's needs and conservation," Ellis said.

After listening to public opinion, the commission discussed the recommendations. Many members favored the suggestion of off-site parking with public transit access.

"I think that the consultants should seriously consider off-site parking," said Commissioner Mickey Fearn.

The commission also supported park transit shuttles for east-west recreational connections, moving the prior staff recommendation from "no" to "yes."

A highly debated point was limiting overall access to the park. The staff recommendation was "no," based on the decision that people should not be turned away from a state park. The commission, wrestling with the concern that future demand will exceed park capacity, moved the "no" to a "yes," meaning that planning teams can still consider the option.

"This is a more complex situation than anything we've ever dealt with," said Commissioner Fearn during discussion on park access.

The possibility of deluxe cabins, which staff had marked as "yes" for consideration, sparked debate among the commission.

"People are not coming to Deception Pass for a resort experience," said Commissioner Cecilia Vogt.

After back and forth conversation, the commission voted to retain the "yes" option, with a majority believing that the planning team should be able to consider it.

Now that the commission has reviewed the recommendations, the issues that remain as "yes" will be further explored by staff planning teams and a more detailed park facilities plan will be developed.