A public process to help decide future uses at South Whidbey State Park, including overnight camping, will begin next month.
Jon Crimmins, area manager for Central Whidbey state parks, confirmed Tuesday morning that work will begin in September on a classification and management program, or CAMP, for the park. Similar to a master plan, it’s a long-range planning document that guides future uses at state parks. They are developed with, and heavily influenced by, public input, which means people will have a real say about the fate of South Whidbey’s popular campgrounds.
“Absolutely, it’s a public park,” Crimmins said. “We’re here to manage it and take care of it [for the public].”
The campground is open seasonally, but it was kept closed this year. Parks officials cited safety reasons, saying rot in trees around many of the park’s campsites made the area unsafe for overnight visitors. The decision to permanently close the campground or reopen it in the future has not been made, however; that’s part of what the CAMP planning process will decide, Crimmins said.
The plan will be created through a series of public meetings, the first of which begin in mid-October. Dates, times, locations and other details about the meetings are still being hammered out.
It is clear, however, that between one and four of the meetings will be held, per Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission policy. The exact number is determined by public interest, Crimmins said. Plans developed for other state parks that saw little attendance, such as just two people, only needed one meeting while others have required all four. Crimmins believes the latter will be necessary here.
“I would suspect, knowing the people of South Whidbey, this will not be one meeting,” he said. “I suspect the four.”
To prime the public for the planning process and public meetings, parks staff will hold two 90-minute walkthroughs of the campground — one at 1 p.m. and another at 5:30 p.m. — on Sept. 16. An arborist is expected to explain just what the problem is, and use trees previously marked with tags as talking points.
Crimmins said after the announced closure this spring, specialists went through the area in more detail, including trips into the canopy. Any plan to reopen the campground would almost certainly call for the removal of some of the tagged trees. Not all would need to go, but many are failing, he said.
“Some are in a state where we can’t in good conscience let people camp under them,” he said.
Ted Brookes, president of Friends of South Whidbey State Park, said he liked the idea of selectively removing problem trees as a way to deal with the safety issue. It would be a good compromise to permanently mothballing or turning the area into a “moonscape,” he said.
Brookes made it clear the friends group won’t be challenging whatever decision is made, that the organization’s role is to work with parks staff and not against them.
“What we want is for the park to be utilized in the best way possible, and if that means the campgrounds staying closed, so be it,” he said.
Brookes claimed that attendance at the park this summer has been equal to previous years, and that was “pleasing,” but that the friends and park’s program participation had declined as campers constituted a large portion of attendance in years past.
The organization and the state park will hold a joint meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, at Freeland Library. Crimmins will give a state of the parks address, and likely answer more than a few questions about the campgrounds.
Crimmins said that’s really not the intent of the meeting, but that he’d be more than happy to share what he knows. The purpose of the meeting is really to give a state of the parks report to a dedicated group of volunteers and help select new directors on the board.
As for the CAMP plan, parks staff hope to have the document finished before the end of the year so it can be presented to the parks commissioners for approval.