Regular users of Joseph Whidbey State Park are upset that their cherished spot is one of 10 state parks under consideration for private business development.
And some want to know why they didn’t know about it in time to provide public input last month at a Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission meeting in Lynnwood.
Washington State Parks came up with a preliminary list of candidates to potentially accommodate privately financed recreation facilities. The move reflects the commission’s strategy adopted two years ago to expand the use of parks land holdings to try to generate more revenue for state parks, which have relied mostly on user fees since 2011 when most of the state’s general fund support was eliminated.
Joseph Whidbey State Park is the only state park in Island County under consideration for such private business development. Another is nearby Fort Flagler State Park.
The original list contained 11 parks, but Crystal Springs, part of the Iron Horse State Park Trail, was eliminated from consideration.
According to a proposal, 60 of Joseph Whidbey State Park’s 206 total acres could be used for Recreational Business Activity, or RBA. That is the term the state agency is using for privately financed recreational developments such as cabins or food services that are intended to provide amenities for park visitors while also generating revenue for the state parks system.
In the case of Joseph Whidbey State Park, the proposal indicates that anticipated development could include “up to 50 cabins, a lodge-type structure with food services, new day-use facilities located northeast of the present state park managed facilities and dry boat storage facilities.”
None of this would take place on the portion of property along the beach.
Thomas Krueger, who lives in Oak Harbor and uses the park frequently, said he hopes none of this takes place at all.
Ken English, who lives near the park, hopes none of this takes place at all.
“There is a nesting pair of eagles there and waterfowl. It’s a huge wetland, too,” English said. “If I had that property and wanted to build an outhouse on it, I would have to have an environmental impact study, get eight permits, and everything else.”
English said he and many nearby residents who regularly walk the beach and use the park are more upset that they didn’t know anything about the proposal or get word about the Jan. 28 parks commission meeting in Lynnwood or a Jan. 31 deadline for public input.
Parks officials keep a mailing list of people who participate in park activities and mail out postcards to those people, hoping word will spread among them, said Virginia Painter, an agency spokesperson.
The proposal also can be found on the parks website, she said.
English said he knew of one person of about three dozen that regularly use the park who received a postcard.
“Nobody had a clue this was even under consideration,” English said.
Some wondered what was up when members of the park’s commission stopped by to visit Joseph Whidbey State Park, among other parks on Whidbey Island, the day before their meeting in Lynnwood.
Painter said the proposal is a concept and that Joseph Whidbey State Park is a potential place just like the other nine sites for an RBA to be put in place.
“It all depends on the public process now,” she said. “We put out notifications to people in these first candidate areas and got feedback. The next thing is to bring those forward to the commission.”
Painter said that the commission will examine that information at its May 18-19 meeting in Moses Lake before determining any next steps, which could include reducing the number of candidate sites.
“It’s very preliminary,” Painter cautioned. “It’s really just a conceptual thing at this point.”
This also is how Jon Crimmins, area manager of Central Whidbey State Parks, understands the situation.
“It’s a concept,” he said. “It’s an example of something that could be done. There is no real plan to do anything.”
But it’s that sort of conceptual talk that worries Krueger, who frequents Joseph Whidbey State Park.
“The last time I heard a bureaucrat say that, I remember my taxes going up,” Krueger said with a laugh.
“If they are just saying it’s not a big deal, then why are they wasting everybody’s time?”
Krueger said he understands that private business ventures could very well fit in some of the proposed state parks, but doesn’t see Joseph Whidbey State Park as one of them.
The other state parks under consideration are: Fort Columbia, Millersylvania, Packwood, Pearrygin Lake, Skating Lake, Squilchuck, Twenty-Five Mile Creek and Westhaven/Westport Light.
“I just know that if they do this, the next step to occur that they will object to is the Navy rifle range, which is right next door,” Krueger said. “I can hear the words, ‘What if something ricochets?’”