Agency mapping out future for Kopachuck State Park

Staff writerFebruary 9, 2014 

The public will have the opportunity at a meeting Tuesday to learn more about the process of redeveloping Kopachuck State Park as a day-use park.

At the meeting, State Parks and Recreation staff will review highlights of the classification and management plan done for the Gig Harbor-area park, and the recent history of the park and its tree problems.

The department was forced to close the campground in May 2011 when park staffers became concerned about the health of the trees towering over many of the 41 individual campsites After studying the trees, an arbor crew from the state Department of Natural Resources found about 80 percent of the Douglas firs were affected by laminated root rot. That can cause trees to fall with little or no warning, posing a danger to visitors, staff and facilities.

In January 2012, about 900 Douglas fir trees were cut from a 25-acre portion of the park.

“I don’t think there is any hope of reopening the campground,” said Dennis Mills, Kopachuck area park manager. “We’re not willing to take the risk of having people in the campground.”

Mills said everything in the campground has been pulled out, except for the bathroom which has been winterized.

“People can walk through the park, but there is no place to stop and sit. If they do that, they become a target to any falling tree,” he said.

Development of a master plan, expected to be completed by May, is an extension of work done in 2010 to create a stage classification and management plan. That process identified key issues at the park and gathered public input.

Some of the public comments cited in the plan were gathered at a 2009 meeting on the possibility of transferring ownership of the park to the Key Peninsula Park District. Citizens cited the park’s natural attractions, its value as an educational resource and the recreational opportunities the park provides.

As the process moved along, State Parks approved land classifications and a long-term boundary for Kopachuck in January 2011.

But future development at the park was halted by the tree-root issue. The park is now operated as a day-use park.

The commission wants to develop a master plan based on the land classifications adopted as part of the 2010 plan and update the park plan to better align with the park’s current status as a day-use operation, according to a department news release.

“The master plan is kind of an off-shoot of that earlier process,” Mills said. “(State Parks) is trying to debate what they want as a long-term plan for the park.”

An ad hoc committee of eight citizens and four park employees has been meeting to discuss ideas for future park development, Mills said. It includes park neighbors, a Scout master and representatives from Harbor WildWatch, Preserve Our Parks, Washington Water Trails Association and the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department.

Among ideas the group has discussed: Making the upper and lower restrooms accessible to disabled park visitors, creating a viewing platform overlooking the water, creating a playground, and adding a multipurpose building that could hold 100-150 people for events like weddings and large family picnics that would be available to the public when not reserved.

Mills said the real challenge will not be coming up with ideas, but convincing the Legislature to fund the work.

“We don’t have a pot of $5 million allocated to this park so we can run out and do design work, make purchases and install things. We have to go to the Legislature for all that,” he said.

“The idea is if we can prove that this is something the community really wants and we have vetted out all the options, they are more likely to approve the budget request,” Mills added.

Mills said capital budget requests would be made for the 2015, 2017 and 2019 budget cycles.

The marine park covers 109 acres, with 5,600 feet of saltwater shoreline, on Henderson Bay. The park includes Cutts Island, a half-mile from shore and reachable only by boat. The day-use portion of the park is open 8 a.m.-dusk.

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 jeff.mayor@

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