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Leaders scrutinize park trees

While dodging falling limbs might make for good storytelling, assuming the target emerges unscathed, it doesn’t make for a pleasurable camping experience.

If a tree thinning project proposed at county-owned Rhododendron Campground does not proceed, there could be some perfect opportunities for storytelling.

The Board of Island County Commissioners visited the campground with interim Parks Superintendent Lee McFarland last Wednesday afternoon. The campsite area has remain closed because of the hazardous conditions.

The project was originally proposed by former parks superintendent Terri Arnold at an April staff session. In addition to the campground, thinning was recommended around the perimeter of the ball fields at the county park south of Coupeville. The latter project will have to wait.

“We’ll take a lot of flak if this campground isn’t opened by Memorial Day,” McFarland said. “It’s usually open by April 1.”

Foresters from the Department of Natural Resources met on site in March and determined that thinning would be the single most effective approach on the seven-acre parcel of campground, as well as at the ball field, to achieve better forest health and provide increased safety.

Ron Godwin, owner of Washington Timberland Management, the company that has marked the trees selected for removal and would carry out the project, estimated in April that a maximum of one out of every three trees would be removed from the campground area. That figure did not sit well with McFarland.

“I told him that I wasn’t willing to come in here and take out every third tree,” he said Wednesday.

Originally Godwin estimated that the timber would net approximately $3,000 per acre. Again, McFarland was hesitant. And the commissioners shared his hesitancy given the condition of many of the trees marked for removal.

“A few loads of logs, maybe,” said Commissioner Mike Shelton. “It doesn’t look like there’s much value. A tree like that, you knock it down and throw it on the burn pile.”

“Some of these would go for pulp, that’s for sure,” McFarland agreed.

Godwin also proposed spreading the limbs from the trees throughout the campground. Once again, the commissioners did not concur.

“The board isn’t interested in that plan at all,” said Commissioner Mac McDowell. “Some of those funds might be used for chipping them and spreading the chips out. It’s sure a lot easier to walk on wood chips than branches.”

Commissioner John Dean was emphatic that the project is not for making money, but for creating a safer camping environment.

“One of my concerns is that we don’t try to manage the forest for harvesting,” he said. “It should just be for safety.”

McFarland assured the commissioners that the county does not manage any of its land for the purposes of harvesting the timber.

With no formal agreement between the county and the timber management company, there are still looming question marks, not the least of which is how to fund the project.

“It looks to me like we’re going to have to pay someone to come out here and do this,” Shelton said. “The trees that are marked are probably trees that should come out. That would be my opinion. But I clearly believe the dollar figures that were talked about in the first meeting that we had certainly are not going to be realized through the number of trees and the ones marked here.”

McFarland plans to discuss the proposal further with Godwin. Meanwhile the commissioners will ponder their options.

“If we’re going to operate a campground, we don’t want to have a bunch of trees that are going to fall on people,” Shelton said.

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