Offer ideas for future of Lake Sammamish State Park
December 4, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Lake Sammamish State Park, a 512-acre urban oasis surrounded by Issaquah and a destination long overdue for a makeover, is in the spotlight again as city and state officials seek residents’ ideas for the park’s future.
Issaquah and the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission leaders scheduled a Dec. 10 open house about the state park. The event is meant to restart the conversation about options for the park, including a stalled plan approved in 2007 and meant to guide upgrades to aging facilities and the expansion of recreation opportunities.
Options to revive the plan could include a partnership between the state parks agency, city and a nonprofit organization to help the park. The state parks agency is also open to commercial ventures on parkland as a potential way to generate funds for the facility.
“We’re looking for means other than relying on monies from Olympia to actually get the plan implemented,” city Economic Development Director Keith Niven said. “That’s going to cause us to potentially partner with some nonprofits and partner with some private entities.”
Lake Sammamish State Park open house
The open house is also in part meant to attract attention to Lake Sammamish State Park after a series of challenges dented the park’s reputation. In recent years, drownings, a gang shootout and fluctuating attendance due in part to the Discover Pass required for parking changed how the public perceives the park.
Meanwhile, tight state budgets squeezed state parks throughout Washington and led lawmakers to adopt the Discover Pass to raise dollars to operate the parks.
Park is ‘taken for granted’
Lake Sammamish State Park also lacks the deep community support — such as a foundation or friends organization — to help pay for operations and upgrades.
Peter Herzog, a longtime parks planner for the state parks commission, acknowledges the challenges the park faces.
“It’s kind of taken for granted because it’s right there in the middle of everything,” he said.
In 2007, state parks commissioners approved a bold plan to remake and restore the park. The proposal focused on “green” building construction, and outlined plans for a bathhouse and concession facility near Sunset Beach, a lakeshore esplanade, or walkway, improved areas for swimming and other amenities.
Still, due in part to the recession, “the things that we have suggested in the plan have not really garnered any instant takers,” Herzog said.
Many park facilities appear worn and outdated, despite efforts from rangers and maintenance personnel.
“The condition has been its greatest detriment,” Herzog said. “The quality and condition of the beaches are really not very inviting. There’s a sort of downward spiral, if you think about it. If people aren’t going, then it becomes not inviting for people to go there.”
Though the state parks agency and nonprofit organizations, such as the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust, conducted shoreline and habitat restoration programs in recent years, proposals to add commercial ventures to the park remain stalled.
Herzog said a combination of sources is needed to implement the 2007 plan.
“It’s kind of the all-of-the-above strategy that’s necessary to make a place like Lake Sammamish really thrive and implement this plan that we came up with,” he said. “In the process, if we have to change the plan in order to achieve that financial reality to get to a place where we can sustain the park financially or even do better than that, then it’s going to take everything to make it go.”
Seeking a long-term solution
Issaquah surrounds Lake Sammamish State Park, but most areas inside park boundaries fall in unincorporated King County. Issaquah officials, long eager to increase local tourism, identify the state park as a tourist draw, but note the need for improvements.
The upcoming open house stems from a pact approved in June by the City Council and the state parks agency.
The agreement calls for the city and state parks commission to “explore opportunities to improve community use” of park facilities, seek out funding to improve the park and dedicate staffers to develop recommendations for the park. The pact, or memorandum of understanding, is in effect through June 2013.
The council also listed the state park as a goal for 2013, but did not decide to put any dollars behind the effort.
Earlier attempts to upgrade the state park and use park facilities to generate revenue led to mixed results.
In December 2001, state parks officials completed a 16-month public planning process to draft a management plan for Lake Sammamish State Park and nearby state parks. The public and parks staffers identified important natural features and determined appropriate uses for areas in the parks.
The report showed a dramatic deterioration at Lake Sammamish State Park facilities since the state parks agency last made a major capital investment in the mid-1970s. Officials also noticed a marked decline in attendance during the prior decade.
Community shapes park plan
In response to the report, agency commissioners and staffers launched a plan to development park facilities for the 21st century. Officials also focused on ways to generate revenue for the park, especially as state budget cuts hobbled the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.
The agency considered numerous proposals for the parkland — conference center, indoor water park, office space and sports venues — but public opposition led officials to abandon the proposal.
Though parks staffers later removed nonrecreational facilities from the proposal, residents raised concerns about efforts to commercialize the park. Opponents cited potential impacts to traffic congestion, and damage to wetlands and wildlife habitat, as reasons to scuttle the plan.
So, in early 2004, a Lake Sammamish State Park Advisory Committee convened to chart a road map for the park. Representatives from the community, municipal and King County governments, and the Snoqualmie Tribe created a set of concepts for the park.
In 2007, state parks commissioners adopted a plan to redevelop and restore Lake Sammamish State Park based on recommendations from the advisory committee.
“That was a long and arduous process to get there,” Herzog said. “Then, the Great Recession happened. The state parks funding has shifted dramatically now with Discover Pass and our commission has come out and said we need to look at creating the right mix of support for state parks statewide.”