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Park plan: keep it simple

"When it comes to the future of Deception Pass State Park, nearly 50 Whidbey Island residents at a state parks meeting Thursday night seem to agree that less is better.But in the end, the future of the park will likely be shaped by seven people who neither live nor work in the area.Parks Planner Daniel Farber said the purpose of the meeting in Oak Harbor was to gather public input from local residents one last time before state parks staff comes up with a plan for the future of Deception Pass State Park.Those who attended got a sneak peek at nine new proposals for the park created by design consultants. They suggest everything from repairs of the historic guard rails to a lodge or another interpretive center.Farber said parks staff would wrap up work soon on the draft that will be presented to the Parks and Recreation Commission, a seven-member board appointed by the governor, at a meeting in Anacortes on Wednesday, July 21.Based on that hearing, the commission will decide on some general policies about the future of the park, which will likely steer the direction of future park funding.Farber said it seems clear that some amount of work needs to be done at the park. He said the cabins are rotting at the Environmental Learning Center, trails and guard rails need repair and the maintenance facilities are inadequate.But mostly, the park simply isn't equipped to handle the pressure of increasing numbers of visitors. The Parks Service estimated that 5.8 million people visited the 4,000-acre park last year.We need to do a lot at Deception Pass just to keep it up, he said, but we don't know how much. We don't know how much is too much.The answer from the local residents was simple: Do the bare minimum. The meeting got a little heated when some angry residents argued that many of the proposals would bring in too many people, destroy the character of the park, harm the environment and crowd the roads on North Whidbey.We're on an island. We only have so much space, resident Donna Painter said. Let's protect what we've got.If you bring in more people, you bring in more trash, Cornet Bay resident Deanna Swanson said. This is my paradise. Don't take away my paradise.They are trying to commercialize the park, local resident Ted Marshall said. They need to focus more on the people who live on Whidbey Island.The series of proposals that Farber presented at the meeting came from three competing design firms who were paid $4,000 for their ideas. He said each firm created three different proposals for updating or changing the park, from the minimum amount of work needed to maintain the current level of service to pie-in-the-sky plans for extensive upgrades and new facilities.One idea is to build a new cultural center based on Native Americans, early pioneers or the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps. Since the park has one of the largest collection of CCC work in the country, Farber said one of the firms suggested creating a crafts education center where people could learn the lost art of rustic park crafts.Other large proposals include a new store and cafe at West Beach, a new dock and fish cleaning area at Cornet Bay, a tram or shuttle service in the park, a trail around Cranberry Lake, a boat shuttle between islands, a new visitor center and boat rental at the East Cranberry Lake area, a lodge and a community center at the Cornet Bay Environmental Learning Center, playground equipment, and more camping, trails and parking.He argued that that all development at the park in not necessarily bad. For example, a shuttle service inside the park would drastically cut down the amount of auto traffic. Believe it or not, sometimes you have to build to protect, he said.Farber said the park staff will likely meld some of the big proposals with more modest ideas in the final draft. But while the proposal is being sorted out, changes are ongoing at Deception Pass. There's the new park entrance, a reservation system for campers, a new septic system and new rest rooms.Farber added that there's about $2 million already budgeted over the next couple of years for a boat launch and other improvements to the Cornet Bay marina area, as well as a small store.We have no idea where the store will go, he said.The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission is holding a meeting at the City Council chambers in Anacortes July 21. On the agenda will be a proposal for the future of Deception Pass State Park. The meeting will start at 9 a.m.The Commission welcomes written comments on the park's future. They can be sent to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission, 7150 Clearwater Lane, PO Box 42650, Olympia, WA 98504-2650. Or email Parks Planner Daniel Farber at danielf@parks.wa.gov."

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