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State park transfers back on the table

With the state hurting for money, the Bainbridge Metro Park and Recreation District has expressed interest in potentially taking on Fort Ward, and later, Fay Bainbridge State Parks.

The district sent a letter to the state in May saying it would be willing to manage the parks to save money for the state as the Legislature prepares for a September session to cut costs as a result of a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall.

“We’ve said we’re interested in taking them over, and they’ve said they’re interested in giving them, and now everyone is going back to the drawing board to see what that means,” said Park District Executive Director Terry Lande.

Don Hoch, Southwest Regional director for Washington State Parks, said the State Parks and Recreation Committee will vote on whether or not to authorize the transfer at a meeting in Spokane on Aug. 12.

Should the commission endorse the transfer, the state and the park district could then begin immediate negotiations, but approval is not a given, Hoch said.

“The board could vote and say they don’t want to transfer, or they could just want to do Fort Ward; it’s all up to the commission.”

The letter, written by Park Board Chair Lee Cross, said the parks district would like to take on Fort Ward as soon as possible and have the first option to take over Fay Bainbridge as well. Cross said an issue regarding a potential treatment plant the state was planning to build for the Fay Bainbridge campground still has to be worked out. The state procured the permits but then there was no money for the project.

Hoch estimated that Fort Ward could be in the hands of the park district by the end of the year, and a Fay Bainbridge transfer could happen by next summer, if the state commission approves a transfer of both properties.

The park board explored the possibility of taking on the parks last summer when the state was looking to transfer 13 state parks to save money. But the transfers were met with mixed reactions from people who worried that the district may have been taking on a little bit more than it could handle.

In the end, the state was able to find money to pay for the parks by creating a donation fund from car tabs for their operation. The potential transfer stopped there.

“It’s pretty clear people want the parks to be open, but as long as the state can operate it would be preferable,” Cross said.

But with the state refocusing on budget cuts, the transfer appears to be back on the table.

Details of a possible transfer remain unknown, as the process is still in its early phases and has not yet been approved. Lande hopes to receive a proposal from the state detailing the improvement projects and equipment needed to maintain the parks. He also would like to see the state complete any outstanding work needed.

“The hope is they’ll clean up whatever needs to be done and provide any materials.”

Hoch was also unsure what kind of details would be involved in the transfer, but he didn’t see the state giving the park district any money to operate the parks.

“There’s no operational dollars going to them,” he said. “We don’t have any money to give.”

Hoch said the operational figures for the two parks have not yet been prepared, but a fact sheet from last year’s negotiations had the cost of running them at $270,000 annually. Fay Bainbridge brought in about $45,000 a year in revenue from camping fees, according to the same fact sheet.

Lande said the park district hasn’t accounted for the potential transfer in its budget, so the parks may have to be absorbed into the district’s regular operating budget.

“We didn’t have any money budgeted to take over the parks,” Lande said. “We’ll make do with the money we have next year.”

Lande said a new volunteer manager will coordinate a large adopt-a-park effort to help maintain and enhance the parks, should they come into the hands of the district.

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