Bainbridge state parks could go local
December 29, 2008 · 10:21 AM
The futures of Fort Ward and Fay Bainbridge state parks appear precarious right now, but it’s certain that they won’t be closed without a fight.
The popular waterfront parks, which together attracted an estimated 300,000 visitors in 2007, landed on a proposed list of 15 state parks to be closed in 2009, after Gov. Christine Gregoire directed the State Parks and Recreation Commission’s effort to slash $10 million from its budget.
The announcement last week was a shock to local state legislators who say they will work to remove the parks from the chopping block. Meanwhile, Bainbridge Metropolitan Park and Recreation District is already considering the implications of taking over the properties if State Parks decides to unload them to a local agency.
“It wouldn’t surprise me at all if (state) parks end up in park district ownership or management,” park district Executive Director Terry Lande said.
Closing Fay Bainbridge, Fort Ward and the 13 other state parks would save the agency an estimated $3.5 million, according to State Parks spokesperson Virginia Painter.
Painter said the park closure proposal came after the agency had already decided on a list of cuts, including the reduction of its equipment replacement program, cuts to its administration, the closure of a regional office and the elimination of some programming.
While their inclusion in the proposed list of park closures came as a surprise to many, Painter said Fay Bainbridge, a 17-acre park with campsites at the island’s north end, and Fort Ward, a 137-acre south end park with extensive trail system, were placed on list of parks considered inconsistent with the agency’s goals in 2004.
The list was developed as part of the State Parks Commission’s centennial planning effort, which defined ideal state parks as “premier destinations of uncommon quality... and of statewide and regional significance.”
Commissioners used a set of nine criteria – including cultural significance, popularity, uniqueness, natural attractions and operational costs – to determine which parks met the agency’s new vision.
Painter said Fay Bainbridge and Fort Ward were identified as parks that did not meet the commission’s criteria. They were also among 13 parks the commission believed could be operated as county or city parks.
When the commission decided to propose park closures as part of its package of budget cuts, those 13 parks, joined by two others, were nominated.
State representatives weren’t notified of the proposed list of park closures until after the public announcement was made. Local legislators Sherry Appleton, Phil Rockefeller and Christine Rolfes all said the inclusion of Fay Bainbridge and Fort Ward was a complete surprise.
“That was such a shock,” Rep. Appleton of Poulsbo said. “I was absolutely aghast. These two parks are very popular in Kitsap County.”
Sen. Rockefeller of Bainbridge said he has fired off a memo to the State Parks Commission asking for an explanation of why the parks were listed. He has already received a letter from a constituent asking why one island faces the loss of two state parks.
“It’s a piece of bad news,” Rockefeller said of the proposed closures. “I can’t imagine what rationale or justification they could have.”
The legislators said the issue would receive scrutiny in the upcoming legislative session.
If the closures go ahead as proposed, Painter said the Parks Commission will be eager to work with local agencies to keep parks public.
The state park system has turned over management of properties to municipal agencies in the past, and on Bainbridge the Metropolitan Park District would be the obvious candidate.
Lande said the park district would do everything it could to keep Fay Bainbridge and Fort Ward open, but said the park board would need to assess the costs involved with taking over the properties and what strings might be attached by the state. The district would probably take over the parks only if the state were interested in a long-term lease or sale, Lande said.
Maintaining the two parks would be very expensive, but the properties’ sweeping waterfront accesses are invaluable to islanders, Lande said.
“Our goal is that they don’t get closed,” Lande said. “But we can’t go broke either.”
The closure of Fay Bainbridge could jeopardize a proposed sewer project at Point Monroe. The city had been in talks with the state regarding collaboration on a sewer project for Fay Bainbridge and the adjoining sand-spit and Lafayette Avenue neighborhoods.
State funding for a sewer system at Fay Bainbridge had been proposed for the 2009-2011 biennium but has now been bumped to 2015, according to Painter.
City Public Works Director Randy Witt said the state had most recently suggested that the project could receive funding from the proposed federal stimulus package.
Witt said the implications of the closure of Fay Bainbridge for the Point Monroe project won’t become clear until after the holidays.
“Its all a lot of conversation and speculation because everyone is out right now,” he said.