State Parks unveils master plan for Fort Canby

State Parks unveils master plan for Fort Canby

FORT CANBY - The future of the Peninsula's premier park, Fort Canby State Park in Ilwaco, and issues such as the erosion of beachfront camping areas, upcoming parking fees and possible changes in the park's boundaries will be discussed at a State Parks public meeting scheduled for Thursday, Oct. 10.

The meeting will include a sneak preview of a preliminary State Parks' Fort Canby master plan, which is being unveiled at this time to receive feedback from the public, said Daniel Farber, a State Parks parks planner out of the State Parks headquarters in Olympia. The cost of the master plan is an estimated $350,000.

"This meeting is taking place to provide information and to get feedback on future plans for Fort Canby - what it should be," said Farber. "It's an incredibly complex park."

According to Farber, there are three reasons, or drivers, for devising a master plan for the park at this time.

One of the most pressing of these drivers is the persistent erosion of the ocean beaches in the Fort Canby area. Due to this erosion, the park's beachfront camping area continues to be threatened and State Parks needs to decide how to cope with this situation, possibly to include plans for replacing or relocating these beachfront camp sites.

Another driver, or issue that needs to be addressed in the master plan, is the little known fact that two-thirds of the 1,880 acres that comprise Fort Canby is not actually owned by State Parks.

State Parks is in charge of managing the entire park, but it is dependent upon leases with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE) for use of the entire parkland area known as Fort Canby State Park.

"The BLM and COE areas are now under expired leases," said Farber. "Both leases have been expired for almost 10 years."

According to federal law, in order for State Parks to get these leases renewed, it needs to show intention for its use of the BLM and COE land in the park's master plan and also complete a comprehensive assessment of these lands.

This assessment for the BLM and the COE is expensive, said Farber. In addition, it is difficult in terms of meeting these agencies' standards, since State Parks is required to have an archaeological inventory of the BLM and COE lands. State Parks is also required to do inventories of natural resources, such as rare and protected species, vegetative communities, as well as a topographic inventory of wetlands.

Another driver behind the Fort Canby master plan is the upcoming Lewis and Clark Trail Bicentennial, which promises to increase the number of visitors to the park in 2003 through 2006 by an estimated 50 percent or more. According to Larry Chapman, a State Parks area manager at Fort Canby, an estimated 1.2 million people visited Fort Canby in 2001, which he said was a spike over recent years.

What this means in terms of the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial is that Fort Canby could see over 2 million visitors descend on the park each year between 2003 and 2006. With this massive influx of visitors to Fort Canby, State Parks is faced with how to handle the crowds.

"What it really means is how do we accommodate and serve people best," said Farber. "Our plans? This is where it gets very hard."

What's causing the difficulty is that there is virtually no flat, developable land in the park for more parking and/or more buildings, in terms of increasing facilities to accommodate more people for the Lewis and Clark Trail Bicentennial. Also complicating the parking situation is the beach erosion, which washed away one of the park's parking lots.

"Now we need to look at the if and where and how much size in terms of a new parking lot," said Farber. "Maybe we need a transit system for service for the Lewis and Clark Bicentennial, but we would need to consider bus stops, shelters and the overall layout of the park. This all ties into the master plan."

Farber said a transit plan for Fort Canby could include a State Parks shuttle bus, which would provide for the park's own needs, but could even be tied into a broader, regional State Parks shuttle system. This type of a system could possibly entail connecting up not only with nearby parks, but other communities.

"Somebody could park in the area of the Port of Ilwaco and catch a shuttle there to the Fort Canby Interpretive Center," said Ryan Karlson, a State Parks interpretive specialist at Fort Canby. "And to further explore the Lewis and Clark story, they could take a shuttle to Station Camp and maybe even on to Fort Clatsop. The idea is to create a network so people can go to all the parks in the area."

At this time the Fort Canby Interpretive Center is undergoing renovation (see related story).

Other transportation needs also will be in the Fort Canby master plan when it's completed, said Farber, such as addressing the need for hiking trails to be more cohesive. He said one of the problems at Fort Canby right now is that many of the park's trails don't link up to all the attractions and key destinations in the park.

"We need to look at linking up these trails to be more consistent with our interpretive environment here," said Farber.

A controversial issue all over Washington is that of parking fees at all of the state's parks. Instituting such fees was approved by the State Parks commission in September, but may change when the Legislature reconvenes in January. This too will be discussed at the Oct. 10 State Parks meeting, which Farber said is expected to generate some heated debate. Comments from this debate will also be used to develop a final master plan for Fort Canby, since the bulk of improvements that are desired for the park will cost well over the park's current revenues.

"It would be multiple millions of dollars to implement the master plan for Fort Canby," said Farber.

Also promising to require some creative funding and sure to come up at the Oct. 10 Parks meeting is the possibility of State Parks acquiring Paul Christensen's RealVest Corp. property in the Beards Hollow area. This property is located directly adjacent to Fort Canby and consists of approximately 45 acres of upland property and 48 acres of beachfront property. This property is poised to be developed by Christensen unless State Parks can come up with the funds to purchase it. At this time State Parks is trying to obtain state funds for this purchase, but no secure funding stream has as yet been identified.

State Parks is also eyeing some dunal property in the Seaview area as well. Acquisition of this property would help State Parks consolidate some of its piano key holdings in the area, with the goal to end up with larger chunks of property instead of strips, as is the case for State Parks all up and down the western edge of the Peninsula.

• The State Parks' Fort Canby master plan meeting set for Thursday, Oct. 10 will be held from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the theatre at Fort Columbia State Park, located two miles east of Chinook on U.S. Highway 101.

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