Wenberg State Park at Lake Goodwin may close in budget cuts

STANWOOD — A lakeside park hugely popular with water skiers, campers, people who fish and many others could be shut down.

Wenberg State Park at Lake Goodwin is one of 13 parks in the state’s system of 121 parks proposed for closure.

The state parks department is proposing to close Wenberg State Park and 12 others in response to a request by Gov. Chris Gregoire for each department to come up with possible budget cuts of 10 percent or more.

State lawmakers will make the decision during the 2009 legislative session, which begins Jan. 12.

Wenberg is on the list partly because its draw, while large, is more local than regional, said Virginia Painter, spokeswoman for the state parks department.

The park drew 347,000 visits last year, with 20,000 overnight camping stays, she said.

Ellen Hiatt Watson, who lives in the Lake Goodwin area, said she and her neighbors would be very upset if Wenberg State Park were to close.

“It’s a beloved park; it’s really, really well used. It gets a lot of folks there,” she said. “It would be a shame if people couldn’t access it. It has to stay available to the public.”

The only other state park in Snohomish County, Wallace Falls State Park outside of Gold Bar, is not on the possible cut list.

Parks with a strong local draw are considered good candidates to be picked up by a county or a city that could take over maintenance and operation of the park, Painter said.

The state would not try to sell the park to the local government but would simply transfer it, as has happened with others such as Mukilteo’s Waterfront Park, she said.

Still, it’s far from a given that Snohomish County could assume responsibility for Wenberg State Park, County Councilman Mike Cooper said.

“I’m sure there’s support for it; I think the question is where does the money come from,” he said.

Facing a projected $21 million shortfall, the county laid off 160 people to balance its 2009 budget.

“As nice a park as that is, I don’t know how it pencils out,” Cooper said of Wenberg State Park. “I don’t know how it happens.”

If the county can’t take over the park, the only other idea so far is a takeover by a private group of some kind, Painter said.

“I think we’re just hoping that it does (go to the county) or go to some other operating entity. I don’t know if we have anything specific beyond that,” she said.

State parks staff came up with the list and the state Parks and Recreation Commission gave it the nod. Criteria for keeping a park open included historical significance, uniqueness, flora and fauna, scenery, popularity, experiences, size, condition, and revenue, Painter said.

The parks system is taking other measures to save money, such as selling off small parcels of land, and is proposing to close its Auburn office, one of its four regional offices in Western Washington.

If the Wenberg closure is approved, it likely would happen early in the summer, Painter said. Parks proposed for closure that are on the reservation system — which Wenberg is not — would remain open until after Labor Day, she said.

Watson, who has assumed a leadership role in the area by leading opposition to a proposed large-scale housing development, said she’d be OK with the county taking the park over if it can be done.

“There’s very limited access to those lakes,” she said. “You should see the traffic that happens at that boat ramp. I think it’s very important to keep it. The question is how.”

Reporter Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439 or sheets@heraldnet.com.

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