OROVILLE – The Oroville City Council learned at their Tuesday, Jan. 5 meeting that the state may have plans to close Osoyoos Lake Veteran’s Memorial State Park due to the “dire economic picture.”
The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission put out a news released headed “Dire state economic picture may cause state park closures.” Veteran’s Memorial State Park is one of two threatened by the closures, according to Chris Branch, Community Development Director for the city.
“I’m sure everyone has heard by now about the list of state park closures required to meet the governor’s proposed budget cutbacks,” said Branch. “State Parks are slated for a10 percent budget cut.”
Branch said an evaluation of the parks in the state parks system with an eye toward cuts has been in the works since October 2004. The evaluation rated the different parks on things like popularity, experience, size, flora and fauna, condition and other criteria, according to Branch.
“It occurs to me they never got to Osoyoos Lake State Park at the time to measure these things,” Branch told the council.
He also told the council that he felt the state would look to local governments to take over the parks that are going to be closed.
“I kind of wanted to bring this up to see how you want to respond. It would certainly be a disaster if the city of Oroville had to take it over at this time, but I feel the state will run it through 2009,” said Branch.
Branch said he was going to meet with the regional director when he came up to Pateros to discuss Fort Okanogan State Park which is also on the list.
“I’d like to tell him we have a positive attitude but if you just drop it on us it would be a disaster at this time. I want to beg for some time and basically ask they remove it from the list with some talks for a transition period,” he said.
Branch said he has talked about the park passing into city hands in the past.
Councilman Jon Neal asked if the state was considering opening the park property up to sale to private individuals.
“My understanding is no because there are several provisions on the various parcels that it remain public,” Branch replied.
Walt Hart, Commander of the local American Legion Post, which once owned much of the park before turning it over to the state, said there has been some discussion about keeping it public. He also said that most potentially valuable land along the waterfront was part of the old Legion Park and had provisions keeping it in public hands.
Branch said that one thing the city could consider was private-public partnerships, especially at the top of the hill where the ranger’s residence and equipment storage areas are. The city could lease the land for development of a hotel or other business that would bring in revenue to maintain the park and still keep the waterfront area for public use.
Mayor Chuck Spieth asked the council what their feelings were on the situation. “It would be a tragedy to lose that place,” he added.
“I’d hate to see the short term economic loss of the park even closing for one season,” said Branch.
No decisions were made at the council meeting regarding the park other than to encourage Branch to pursue keeping it open giving the city more time to come up with a plan in case they are asked to take it over.
“They’re supposed to keep it open at least through September because they have reservations already booked,” said Clay Warnstaff, Oroville’s Police Chief.
In other business, City Clerk-Treasurer Kathy Jones announced that this had probably been the last year for the New Year’s Fireworks Display due to liability concerns.