A petition is calling for the state to allow rowboats and other nonmotorized craft on Capitol Lake.
The 260-acre man-made reflecting pond in downtown Olympia has been closed to swimmers and boaters since 2009, when the invasive New Zealand mud snail was found in the waters.
So far, at least 48 people have signed an online petition that was launched last month by Greg Schundler, an environmental research analyst and consultant from Olympia.
Schundler said his proposal offers an economic opportunity for the public or private sectors, especially while the yearslong debate continues on whether to allow Capitol Lake to revert to an estuary.
The petition suggests that paddle craft rentals — such as kayaks, canoes or rowboats — would act as a new “tourism anchor” that could draw money to downtown Olympia while also drawing attention to Capitol Lake’s history.
“I don’t think the community can afford to underutilize that asset,” Schundler said. “There really is no logical reason why folks shouldn’t be able to get their boats on there.”
But Capitol Lake has been closed to boating and other recreational uses since November 2009 to prevent the spread of New Zealand mud snails.
The invasive freshwater mollusks are about as long as a grain of rice, but can wreak havoc on the local food chain by outcompeting native aquatic snails and insects. The mud snail is an adept hitchhiker that can be spread on watercraft and even boots that come in contact with the water, according to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Curt Hart, communications director for the Department of Enterprise Services, said the lake will remain closed while the state figures out a long-term solution for controlling pollution along with mud snails and other invasive species.
Other factors in that solution include dealing with sediment from the Deschutes River. The sediment accumulates at a rate of about 35,000 cubic yards a year, with one cubic yard equivalent to about 1.35 tons.
Hart said the department, which manages the lake, is familiar with the proposal to bring recreational boating to Capitol Lake, but has not yet seen Schundler’s petition.
“We would take any petition seriously,” said Hart, adding that such input would be included in the ongoing process to determine the lake’s fate.
Schundler supports allowing Capitol Lake to revert to an estuary and has volunteered with the Deschutes Estuary Restoration Team. His research projects include a 2015 report titled “Economic Analysis of Outdoor Recreation in Washington State” that was presented to the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office.
With that in mind, Schundler said boat rentals on Capitol Lake would bring momentum to the local economy. He envisions people being able to paddle from downtown Olympia to the brewery properties in Tumwater, for example, then dining at a local restaurant afterward.
“The name of the game with tourism is getting new spending capital in the area,” he said. “It could be a victory for the community — reclaiming that water body. It’s kind of a rebranding opportunity.”
Check it out
Greg Schundler’s petition is titled “Boat rentals on Capitol Lake to support downtown tourism” and can be found at www.change.org.