A major Kopachuck State Park renovation is about to begin, but first the state and county must agree on road right-of-way changes.
To obtain a building permit for the project, State Parks must provide Pierce County with the option to widen neighboring roads to offset increased traffic the county projects will be generated by the improvements.
The county is asking for 5 feet along the west side of the existing 60-foot-wide right-of-way along Kopachuck Drive, which runs the full length of the park’s east boundary; an additional 10 feet on both sides of the existing 40-foot-wide right-of-way along 56th Street, which drops down through the middle of the park to the parking lot but also leads to a development of about 20 waterfront homes to the south; and an additional 10 feet on both sides of the existing 40-foot-wide right-of-way along 106th Avenue, which cuts across the park’s northeast corner en route to a handful of beachfront homes to the north.
56th Street near its intersection with Kopachuck Drive at the entrance to Kopachuck State Park. The county would like more right-of-way on both roads. Ed Friedrich / Gig Harbor Now
The total area of land required by the county is 1.15 acres, assessed at $13,580.
“The thought of widening roads and taking out trees is something the community is particularly sensitive about, particularly in state parks where trees are our business,” said Deputy Director for Parks Development Peter Herzog.
State Parks invites the public to attend a virtual public meeting to learn about the renovation plans, including potential impacts on traffic and county roads, at 6 p.m. Tuesday by going to https://bit.ly/3yyIZ5T. Participants can write questions, comments and suggestions during the meeting. More information about the project can be found at https://bit.ly/3EdX5uA.
Feedback from the meeting will be relayed to the parks commissioners, who must unanimously approve any property transfer.
The intersection of 106th Avenue and Kopachuck Drive. The county would like more right-of-way along each road. Ed Friedrich / Gig Harbor Now
Kopachuck State Park is a 280-acre, day-use park with 5,600 feet of shoreline on Carr Inlet, 6 miles west of downtown Gig Harbor. It features an upper wooded area with picnic tables and 2 miles of hiking trails. The beach is popular for wading, shellfish gathering and watching the sun set over the bay and Olympic Mountains.
“This is a really beloved park by the Gig Harbor community,” Herzog said. “A lot of state parks are near and dear to people’s hearts, so any change means a lot to people. There’s concern whenever something like this comes up. Our intent (with the meeting) is to make sure everybody understands and knows what’s going on so they can provide input to our commissioners when they’re making important decisions.”
Kopachuck supporters are particularly sensitive about removing trees (the county doesn’t have any plans now to do so) because the park’s campground was closed in 2011 as a safety precaution when mature Douglas fir trees became infected with laminated root rot and hundreds had to be chopped down.
The state re-envisioned Kopachuck as a day-use-only park, and developed a master plan with much public involvement in 2014. The upper park plan includes a welcome center and lodgelike multipurpose building with adjacent ADA-compliant picnic area, amphitheater, play area, parking, restrooms, and new water, sewer and stormwater management systems to support them. At the beach, plans include an ADA-compliant walkway, stairs, non-motorized boat launching and water trail camping.
The campground was closed because mature Douglas fir trees became infected with laminated root rot. Ed Friedrich / Gig Harbor Now
The Legislature provided $5.5 million for the project in the 2017-19 capital budget. Because of delays in permitting, required redesign and inflation, that won’t be enough, so there’s another $2.1 million in this year’s proposed supplemental budget.
“The next step is to hear from the Legislature and hopefully the budget will be passed fairly quickly,” Herzog said. “As soon as we have the funds in place we will proceed with the development.”
Kopachuck and its supporters have been through a lot. With State Parks financially reeling from the 2008 Great Recession, the state threatened to close several of them, including Kopachuck, or sell them off to local governments. Supporters organized and helped to save it. Then came the laminated tree rot and resulting campground closure. Now they’re disappointed that several amenities were removed from the master plan during the permitting process.
The lodge was pushed back from the bluff because of landslide fears, requiring more trees to be cut and losing the water view. A pea gravel pocket beach with easy access was eliminated because it required removal of willow trees that provide shade for fish. Restrooms near the beach were scratched because of shoreline regulations.
“This is not unusual for us doing a project to put a design in front of a county permitting entity and for that design to get modified for shoreline or critical areas,” Herzog said. “We looked at the plan and asked, ‘Is it too different or is it something we still want to do?’ We came to the conclusion it is something we still want to do.”
Walkers on the road down to the beach. Ed Friedrich / Gig Harbor Now
Pierce County Council chairman Derek Young, whose District 7 includes the Gig Harbor area, says the county wants to make sure it’s not doing further harm to the park.
“What we’re trying to figure out is how much of this do we really need?” he said. “I don’t have an answer for this right now. We have 1,800 miles of roads so we need basic policies to guide what’s around them. Sometimes it doesn’t fit the situation. I’m asking to make sure we’re talking this through and not harming the park.
“It’s not a huge amount (of land). I think it’s one of those things where the park’s already had a number of problems. We don’t want to further any necessary degrading.”
Young said that on Friday he walked through the process to request and obtain an exemption from the county engineer, a decision that would have to come from the county executive, to whom he’ll be speaking.
A multipurpose building adjacent to play and picnic areas will be built in the upper park. Ed Friedrich / Gig Harbor Now
Susan Paganelli, a park neighbor who was involved in creating the Kopachuck master plan, doesn’t know if transferring road right-of-way to the county is good or bad. She doesn’t have enough information, and that’s the problem.
“If the county is going to commit to keeping up that road and maintaining it during storms, perhaps (it’s good),” she said. “I have to wonder why that was of importance to them. There may be a very good reason. That’s why I will be attending the meeting next week to ask those questions, but to this point those reasons have not been communicated very well.”
Changes to the park plan also weren’t explained well to the public, Paganelli said.
Roads that could see wider county right-of-way Photo courtesy of Washington State Parks
“They just showed up,” she said. “It’s unfortunate because of past issues with the park, the parks system needs to work harder to be clear what’s happening because I’ve sensed distrust in the community. I think more of an issue than anything is clear communication about what’s happening, why it’s happening and how the community can stay engaged in the process. What is the process? I’m hoping that’s what we find out.”
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