Community offers ideas, support for Lake Sammamish State Park

December 11, 2012

By Warren Kagarise

NEW — 5 p.m. Dec. 11, 2012

State officials laid the groundwork Monday for a community organization to support Lake Sammamish State Park as residents met to consider lifelines for the cash-strapped park.

Issaquah and the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission officials collected information from attendees for a possible community organization to support the park, and listened to ideas about the facility at a Tibbetts Creek Manor open house.

The event, hosted by the city and state parks agency, launched a discussion about future ventures at Lake Sammamish State Park and what residents hope to see on the park’s 512 acres.

In 2007, state parks commissioners approved a bold plan to remake and restore the park, but the economic downturn and state budget crises curtailed dollars to implement the plan.

Options to improve the park could include a partnership between the state parks agency, city and a nonprofit organization. The state parks agency is also open to commercial ventures on parkland as a potential way to raise dollars for upgrades.

“It’s got to be financially sustainable. We have to take care of the 312-plus acres that’s not in developed parts of the park that’s the natural portion of the park,” Peter Herzog, a longtime parks planner for the state parks commission, told open house attendees. “We have to think about the sustainability, in terms of how we treat the landscape as we move forward.”

The ideas discussed at the open house included a community organization similar to the Bridle Trails Park Foundation, a nonprofit organization established to support the 482-acre state park in Kirkland.

The organization raised more than $1.5 million for Bridle Trails State Park since 2002. The 40-year agreement between the Bridle Trails Park Foundation and the state parks agency ensures the park remains open if the nonprofit organization pays half of operating expenses for the facility.

“It’s been a huge bonus to the park,” Park Ranger Mary Welborn said. ”It takes some dedicated people, but it doesn’t take gobs of people. It takes some people with vision, and it takes a lot of donors.”

Officials said attendees at the Lake Sammamish State Park open house should expect to hear more information soon about opportunities for community involvement at the park.

Other proposals suggested for the lakefront park included a disc golf course on park grounds, a boat storage facility, a zip-line and more.

Herzog said any proposals for the park must take into account the location and sensitive habitat inside park boundaries.

“We have to also recognize that Lake Sammamish is right smack dab in the middle of the Issaquah community,” he said.

“This is not something that’s Steptoe Butte out somewhere in Eastern Washington,” he added, referring to a state park in Whitman County. “This is right in the middle of a thriving urban setting.”

The proximity to Issaquah led city leaders to focus on the park in recent years.

The open house stemmed from a pact approved in June by the City Council and the state parks agency 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 put any dollars behind the effort.

The park design outlined in the 2007 plan 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.

The effort emphasized environmental education, and the plan included a  boardwalk to the mouth of Issaquah Creek for parkgoers to watch migrating salmon.

Officials said the 2007 plan is a starting point for future ideas to upgrade the park.

“I can assure everybody here in the room that we have no plans today,” city Economic Development Director Keith Niven told open house attendees. “For those of you who already think we’ve hatched an idea and a plan, it does not exist.”

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