There is unnecessary controversy about the proposed 1,000 acre Lake Kapowsin Park. Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and others are grossly mischaracterizing the plan for the park and its potential impacts. The park is a good thing from every perspective.
The not-for-profit Lake Kapowsin Trust has proposed the creation of the park and preservation of open space at the lake. This fastest growing part of Pierce County currently has the fewest parks. Once a thriving town of over 1,000 people, Kapowsin is now an abandoned industrial site, and the only legal access to the lake is via the WDFW boat launch. To get to the shoreline elsewhere, people must cross private property.
The Trust’s proposal will create a wildlife preserve, improve access to fishing and hundreds of acres of open space, and create park-wide, ADA-accessible trails and other facilities that will support educational programs, as well as recreational and competitive water sports. The park will host a community boating center where activities will include swimming, non-motorized boating, running, cycling, and adaptive sports, as well as fishing, walking, rolling, bird watching, restoration gardening, volunteer opportunities, and much more. Facilities will benefit tiny tots, moms, middle and high school kids, young adults, and seniors of all abilities, motivations, and incomes. The scale of facilities and events in the park will be in keeping with other local destinations like NW Trek or Pioneer Park. Program partners include Pierce County Parks, the Bethel School District, and others who recognize the tremendous health, education, character development, economic, and social benefits of the vigorous outdoor sports and activities the park will enable in an area of the county with few of such opportunities.
Bipartisan support for the park is broad and deep. Many members of the County’s current and former state legislative delegation support the creation of the park and the acquisition of hundreds of acres of open space. Senator Randi Becker wrote an Op Ed supporting the park for the Eatonville Dispatch. Former Senator Marilyn Rasmussen has been an enthusiastic advocate of the park for years. Other supporters are the County Council, the County Executive, the Director of Pierce County Parks, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, the Superintendent of the Bethel School District, the CEO of UW Medicine, the Director of the UW School of Environment and Forest Science, local business groups, local residents, and many others.
A lakeside park with water sports at Lake Kapowsin is explicitly identified in the Pierce County Comprehensive Plan, the Graham Community Plan, and the Pierce County Parks Plan. The Puyallup-White Watershed Open Space Strategy maps show a park at the lake with interconnections to the Trail to the Mountain and the Foothills Trail. Unfortunately, public funding necessary to realize the vision for a park with such trails has not been available until the Trust stepped forward with its proposal. The park will serve the 25,000+ K-12 students and thousands of families living within 30 minutes of the lake, including those in Kapowsin, Graham, Eatonville, JBLM, Puyallup, South Hill, Orting, and in between.
The not-for-profit Trust’s sole purpose is to take the steps necessary to partner with Pierce County Parks to create the park. Pierce County Parks will ultimately own the land, and the Trust will manage the park in perpetuity at no cost to county taxpayers. The recent Final Report of the Governor’s Taskforce on Parks and Outdoor Recreation recommended this type of public-private partnership approach to funding and operating parks because of the importance of the economic, safety, health, educational, social, cultural, environmental, employment and tourism benefits they bring to the region. Lake Kapowsin Park will deliver on the promises the taskforce report offers for the people of our state.
Safety is an issue. The 512-acre lake has 7.5 miles of shoreline, but beneath the water there are over 25,000 tall, submerged trees remaining from the creation of the lake and sunken saw logs remaining from its days as an industrial log-sorting pond. The hazards are not mere ‘stumps,’ but tall dead trees rising up from the bottom of a lake that is 20-30’ deep. Contrary to DNR statements, lake safety improvements will impact tiny percentages of shoreline, habitat, and current usage. The tops of the underwater trees (which are primarily habitat for bass and other predatory-to-salmonids invasive species) lie just inches below the surface, and currently make boating and swimming hazardous. Over the years there have been a number of drowning deaths attributable to the submerged trees.
The park proposal calls for pruning the tops of a small percentage of trees in the middle of the lake to make it safe for boating. Only a few hundred of the submerged trees will be topped, nothing will be removed from the lake, and there will be no net loss of ecological function. The root structures and ancient trunks of every tree in the lake will remain for geologic or ancient forest studies. Statements to the contrary are fiction. The trust is ready and willing to do the science necessary to guarantee that the habitat will be preserved, and any required mitigation is completed as required by the Shoreline Management Act.
Despite the many benefits the park will bring to those who call Pierce County home, DNR’s Olympia staff contends that the lake should be protected only as a highly restrictive “aquatic reserve” that will prevent more direct public access and the use of the lake for water-dependent activities. DNR has made misleading statements and characterized the proposal as something other than a park to make the proposal seem exclusionary. On the contrary, in the name of elitist environmentalism, a DNR reserve precludes a funded, clean, safe, park that is close by a large number people.
The park significantly increases access to the lake and its uplands, and provides low-cost access to outdoor activities that will not negatively impact fishing or habitat values or anything else, but will benefit county youth tremendously. DNR staff persists in these distortions because a park with a boating center, trails, and water dependent activities is inconsistent with the their vision of a passive aquatic reserve.
DNR’s resistance to a park and youth sports is puzzling given that the agency owns no uplands and thus cannot increase access to the lake. DNR’s inflexibility is also contrary to the provisions of the Pierce County Comprehensive Plan that predates the proposed reserve. Finally, DNR’s position is at odds with RCW 79.105.030, the legislature’s guidelines for the management of public aquatic lands, which place highest priority on: “1) encouraging direct public use and access”; and “2) fostering water-dependent uses”. The park proposal achieves both those objectives, while also protecting and restoring the shorelines and habitat, maintaining the lake’s quiet environment, and providing the funding to both build it and maintain it.
This debate boils down to two different visions for the lake. The DNR vision continues to restrict public access and allows only passive activities. The Trust vision protects the upland and lake environments while it creates a waterfront park with healthy outdoor sports and activities that people have supported for years. People and Nature CAN coexist and thrive together. People who spend more time interacting with nature make better stewards of it. DNR should allow the science to move forward and find ways to cooperate with the Trust. Pierce County residents deserve a destination spot with the recreational, economic, and social benefits proposed for Lake Kapowsin. If you agree, contact your state legislators at http://app.leg.wa.gov/rosters/
William Pickard, Director, Lake Kapowsin Trust, P.O. Box 191, Kapowsin, Washington 98344 firstname.lastname@example.org