OROVILLE – Ted Murray and Sharon McKinzie with the Okanogan County Planning office came to Oroville last week to discuss the county’s efforts to update the Comprehensive Recreation Plan and the results of an online public survey.
“The state and federal governments require an update every six years for the county to maintain grant eligibility,” said Ted Murray, Outdoor Recreation Coordinator for Okanogan County. “This doesn’t just help the county… the city can draw off it as well.”
At the Wednesday, Jan. 4 meeting held at city hall, Murray said the county didn’t have a lot in the way of recreation facilities. The biggest facility the county operates is the county fairgrounds and Agriplex. They also have a short riverfront park in Winthrop the county acquired about two years ago. In the northern part of the county there is the recently developed Similkameen River Trail which runs from the trailhead at Oroville along the old Great Northern Railway bed and along the Similkameen River, across the old steel and concrete railroad bridge to nearly the Enloe Dam powerhouse. Also in the northern part of the county is the Whistler Canyon Trail which is south of Oroville and can be accessed from Highway 97.
Although the online surveys were anonymous, the county could tell what area they came from through the respondent’s IP Addresses.
“The largest number of surveys were from Winthrop, with the second largest number from Oroville. About 110 surveys came from outside the county, from places like Spokane, Colville and the coast,” Murray said. “Many local kids under 18 jumped online in the last three days.”
According to the survey, hiking and walking on trails is the number one activity for those that responded. Number two was pleasure driving, three was swimming and four was picnicking.
“Farmers Markets did real well also across the county, which is not a big surprise,” Murray said. “Shore fishing did pretty well too.”
Murray said the survey takers answered very similarly across the county, with little difference between those inside and outside the Methow.
“I’m surprised that hunting and gathering did not score a little higher. I’m also surpirsed that snowmobiling did not come out higher, especially since 50 percent of those that responded said they did it at least annually.”
Survey takers were pretty evenly divided for their desires for recreation facilities: Number one was nature and interpretive trails; number two was indoor pool and number three was picnic areas. Several kids from the Oroville area said they would like to see a skatepark, said Murray.
George Thornton, an Oroville teacher who is also a member of the Oroville Chapter of the Pacific Northwest Trail Association, said he had gotten a call where the caller state there was almost a “traffic jam” at Palmer Lake with people trying to get a look at a rare Ross’s Gull that was spotted there by a state Wildlife Biologist.
Chris Branch, Oroville’s Director of Community Development said, “Even if we do build a pool we would still have to come up with the dollars to maintain it, the same could be said for a community center.”
Branch also said building trails around the east side of Lake Osoyoos has been the topic of discussion over the last couple years, as well as building a bridge to Driscol Island.
Murray said the county’s population had been growing older, with the greatest growth in those ages 54 to 70 since the 2000 census.
“My years with commercial real estate have taught me that companies that are looking to locate in an area are not just looking at the transportation grid, schools and community, but also the recreation possibilities,” said Sharon McKenzie. “With more activities you bring in companies and that will boost the tax base.”
Branch, who just led a workshop on updating Oroville’s Critical Areas ordinance, also added that part of a planner’s job is to educate people on the value of protected areas.
“If we protect areas and provide public access we then have the opportunity to educate the public on why the areas were protected,” Branch said.
The survey is still open will remain online for a short period, those that wish to take it should go to www.okanogancounty.org.