Closing state parks raises big questions on Bainbridge

Gov. Chris Gregoire’s cost-cutting plan to close Fay Bainbridge and Fort Ward state parks came as a surprise to many island residents and public officials.

It also raised some big questions: Will the land be sold to developers? What about the planned sewer system connecting to Point Monroe? Is the Bainbridge park district or city or even the county willing to absorb and manage the large waterfront parks? Why does Bainbridge have to suffer the loss of two of the 13 parks slated for closure?

For now, there’s more questions than answers.

MANAGEMENT
Park board chair Ken DeWitt said last week that he and other park officials want to ensure the two parks remain open. But, he said, the board has had no formal discussions and has heard no details about how the state might transfer the properties.

Strapped for cash and dragging its feet on opening parklands it purchased years ago, the city is unlikely to take on the two parks. The county is also in a tough financial position and isn’t in the business of managing parks within city limits.

Of the three, the park district, which passed a revenue-boosting levy in November, is in the best position to take over the state parks.

It won’t be easy. The 17-acre Fay Bainbridge State Park is open year-round, hosts campers and draws plenty of visitors to its quarter-mile shoreline. Fort Ward State Park boasts 137 acres of forests and open areas. It has a boat launch, two miles of wooded trails, several picnic areas, park employee residences, historic sites and nearly a mile of shoreline.

Another management option is to establish community-based park foundations. Port Townsend residents formed one to support free parking at Fort Worden State Park. A local foundation with a broader purpose could keep the gates open at one or both of the island’s state parks.

SEWER
The closure proposals threw the state’s plan to construct a new sewer system at Fay Bainbridge up in the air.  Also up in the air is the related plan to connect the system to homes on Point Monroe, a crowded spit plagued by septic leaks, and the Lafayette neighborhood.

Rep. Sherry Appleton, who last week expressed concern about the sewer project’s future, says she’ll pursue answers about the two Bainbridge parks’ fates as the state Legislature begins the 2009 session this month.

WHY BAINBRIDGE?
On the question of why Bainbridge has been singled out may have to give up two parks, state officials have offered a blanket statement about all parks on the closure list. Most of the parks are comparatively small, have few “unique features,” generate little money and are more of a local rather than regional draw, according to a state parks spokeswoman.

FOR SALE?
As for the rumor about handing the parks to condo-makers, state officials have stressed that there are no plans to sell the parks.

You can contact state parks about the closures at pao@parks.wa.gov

To read more, see the Sun’s story here.