Public opinion split on Fay Bainbridge, Fort Ward transfers

Bainbridge newcomers Erika Ramirez (left) with Leander Ramirez and Lydia Goss enjoy Fay Bainbridge State Park on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. The family recently moved to Bainbridge from Chicago and camped at the park while house hunting. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
Bainbridge newcomers Erika Ramirez (left) with Leander Ramirez and Lydia Goss enjoy Fay Bainbridge State Park on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. The family recently moved to Bainbridge from Chicago and camped at the park while house hunting.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

If the Bainbridge Metropolitan Park and Recreation District was looking for public consensus on whether to accept the transfer of Fay Bainbridge and Fort Ward state parks, it didn’t find it this month.

At meetings July 7 and 21 in the Bainbridge Commons, emotions were high and opinions were split on the state’s offer to turn over the two popular parks to local control.

Those who opposed transfer questioned why the park district should shoulder the expense of the parks if the state can afford to keep them. They also worried that the loss of state park status would lead to a drop in tourism. Proponents of the transfer criticized the state’s ability to maintain the properties and asked why the district would consider turning down two of Puget Sound’s premier parks.

“They are two crown jewels of Bainbridge Island,” Donna Martin told park board members at the July 7 meeting. “Please think about that.”

The State Parks and Recreation Commission has been discussing the possibility of transferring the two properties to the park district since last winter, when the agency began bracing for deep budget cuts. During the legislative session, funding was identified through a car-tab rule change that would keep the parks open for the next biennium. But legislators instructed State Parks to keep pursuing potential transfers as long as the properties remained open as parks.

The State Parks commission voted in favor of the transfer of Fay Bainbridge and Fort Ward in June and offered $130,000 to cover associated costs. In response, the Bainbridge park board scheduled two public meetings to gauge public sentiment. The board plans to make a final decision at one of its August meetings, but has yet to set a date.

According to State Parks Regional Director Don Hoch, who attended the July 21 meeting, the agency would be flexible in how a transfer or management agreement is reached.

“We’re looking for partners that want to take on these parks, we’re not dumping them,” Hoch said. “There are other ways of running a park than just one entity, so there’s opportunity for partnership.”

At the July 21 meeting, the park district distributed a fact sheet on the transfer (read the full document at the bottom of this page). It projected an annual operating cost of $92,000 for both parks, including $45,000 of revenue from the Fay Bainbridge campground. State Parks spends roughly $270,000 operating the parks, but the park district believes much of the operations cost would be absorbed into its existing maintenance system. Several meeting attendees said the park district’s figure seemed low, and they pointed out that the state park employees are trained in law enforcement.

Many said the park district would risk biting off more than it could chew by taking the state parks at the same time when it’s also bracing to receive 25 properties from the city and purchasing parkland with levy lid-lift money.

Another point of contention has been the fate of a sewer project planned for Fay Bainbridge and the Point Monroe area.

The project was being planned by the state, city and Puget Sound Partnership, but the Legislature punted funding for the project to its 2015 capital budget. The state’s involvement in the project would likely end if Fay Bainbridge was transferred to the park district, and the district isn’t interested in footing the bill.

Hoch said he believed more money from the project might become available from the Puget Sound Partnership. City Council member Bill Knobloch urged the park district to hold off on accepting the transfer until the issue was resolved.

“I think if the transfer were to go through, that project would be lost or severely damaged,” Knobloch said.

Perhaps the predominate sentiment at the meetings was that the park district shouldn’t be prodded into a transfer unless the parks are in danger of closing.

“There’s no impetus,” Edith Hartmann said. “We’re not going to lose these. No one wants to lose these parks. I think there’s a lot to consider and a lot to be lost by rushing in.”

Bainbridge Metropolitan Park and Recreation District distributed the following fact sheet at the July 21 meeting. Click on the blue link to view it in a new window or download it as a PDF file.

BIMPRD State Park Fact Sheet

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