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Mountains out of mudholes

t Who will fix the Phelps park and ride? No one, it seems.

In the winter, it’s a mudhole.

In the summer, a dust bowl.

It looks less like a parking area than the surface of the moon, pocked by craters big enough to swallow vehicles whole.

It is the Phelps Road park and ride, and Liz Murray thinks it ought to be patched up a bit.

“Getting in here’s a real challenge,” said Murray, former city councilwoman and Bainbridge Kiwanis member, betwixt two enormous puddles that never seem to drain. “Getting out’s even worse.”

On a recent afternoon, a dozen cars are arrayed around the lot’s perimeter, away from a badly pitted center. Several water holes – one more than 20 feet wide – fall away to unseen depths. The north side of the lot near the fire hall is strewn with garbage, an empty wine box, a motor oil can, a lidless beer cooler.

While there has been general suspicion that the lot is used by off-islanders coming to the Winslow ferry – a bumper sticker proclaims one vehicle as driven by the proud parents of a Kingston Junior High School honors student – Murray notes that it’s also used by Bainbridge car-poolers heading north off the island.

That includes Kiwanis members, who have a regular soiree with their counterparts in Poulsbo. Murray recalls a morning not long ago when club members convened in the lot to share a ride north.

“It was pitch black and pouring rain,” she said. “Nobody could find anyplace to park that wasn’t in the middle of a puddle. All the dry places were taken.”

So she began contacting city and state officials, trying to find someone to grade the lot and add some gravel. What she found is, while everyone seems to agree that the lot could use some maintenance, they also think someone else should do the work.

She took the issue to the City Council last week, hoping to find a sympathetic ear.

While Public Works Director Randy Witt concedes that the lot falls into “a gray area” – it sits in the state right of way, but the city and county may also hold interests – he didn’t rush to offer the services of his department.

“It’s the state’s facility,” Witt said Friday, “and we’re happy if they want to maintain their facility.”

In a recent letter to the Washington State Department of Transportation, Mayor Darlene Kordonowy also urged state crews to repair the lot.

Kiwanis is not alone in complaining about the facility, which has been neglected for some time.

In January, Bainbridge resident Matt Albee made a formal inquiry to WSDOT about the parking lot’s sad condition. The park and ride, he wrote, “is a disaster. It’s going to start damaging cars, if it hasn’t already. It’s filled with lakes – not potholes, but lakes.”

A WSDOT maintenance official responded that several years ago, the agency came to the city with plans to pave the lot and add lighting. But Bainbridge officials rebuffed the idea, saying the Comprehensive Plan did not support development of park and rides in the SR-305 corridor.

Since then, state funding apparently has dried up; without paving and other improvements, the lot is not recognized as part of WSDOT’s park and ride system for regular maintenance.

“Although we are not precluded from making the repairs,” WSDOT operations engineer Steve Roark said, “the funds expended to do so would need to be taken away from other core maintenance activities such as pavement repair and vegetation control.”

That would appear to leave Murray to try Kitsap Transit, or perhaps go back to the mayor’s office in search of relief. Kiwanis has even offered to coordinate repairs itself, if public agencies will chip in.

How the club came to have such interest, that’s a minor chapter in island lore.

As Murray tells it, back in the 1960s, the area was maintained informally by the Fay Bainbridge State Park ranger, who also happened to be a Kiwanis member. That inspired someone to put up a sign reading “Maintained by Bainbridge Kiwanis”; some wags even referred to it as “Kiwanis Park.”

“(The sign) was there long enough that everyone thought it was land Kiwanis had an interest in,” Murray said.

To the extent that any old-timers still believe that’s true, she said, the lot’s poor condition “besmirches our club’s good name.”

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