THE HUNDREDS OF people in attendance were packed like sardines into the Blyn-Bay event room at the 7 Cedars Casino hotel Tuesday evening during the Washington State Parks Miller Peninsula Open House. They were there to make their voices heard to State Parks commissioners Ken Bounds and Holly Williams and State Parks Director Diana Dupuis, along with supportive staff and contract workers.
In short, those from the community, which included Back Country Horseman members and other local equestrians, walkers, hikers and cyclists, along with a great many Diamond Point residents, all gave a resounding “No” to the idea of updating the park into a tourist destination park to include 125 campsites with camp fire pits, for both tenting and large recreational vehicles — and even a lodge/hotel with all the amenities to stay overnight. A zip line, skate park and amphitheater within the park were also mentioned.
When parks representative Michael Hankinson gave his opening presentation and told the audience they were going to spend the first hour with us roaming between informational stations scattered around the room’s perimeter, and then give the last 30 for individuals to voice concerns, the audience spoke out that was not what they were at the meeting for. They’d had enough of the online information, questionnaires and surveys sent out the past 15 years. This was their time to get a face-to-face with park planners and to let their voices be heard.
To the audience, it was as if no one on the Miller Peninsula Planning Committee had read the hundreds of letters sent in by the community saying they did not want their changes, and that their concerns had fallen on deaf ears; that the park planning committee was just plowing ahead with the idea of making it a tourist destination park without taking into consideration those living in the community.
Hankinson looked a bit bewildered that the audience didn’t want to spend an hour looking at the three different plans they had, or at their input studies about how it would affect local traffic (they talked about a possible roundabout at U.S. Highway 101 and Diamond Point Road), well water (we were told the impact to local residents would be “negligible” and wildfires caused by someone tossing a burning cigarette or a fire in a pit not properly extinguished (a 150-foot clearcut as a fire break/ buffer around the entire park). To their credit, the commissioners agreed to let the people speak first, and speak they did.
At first, it seemed the commissioners were feeling a bit uneasy and braced for an onslaught of angry critics. Especially when one of the first to comment pointed out not one of those on the planning commission lived on the Peninsula. Yet, over time, they appeared to relax as no one spoke out in anger at them personally. Instead, each gave respectful, well-thought-out statements about how their ideas would adversely affect the area, and in what way.
I was there because I’ve enjoyed riding my horses on Miller Peninsula since 1999. Way before it had the beautiful parking lot it has now for horse trailer and car parking — designed and put in for the most part by local Back Country Horsemen — at a time when there were few trails, most of which could barely be seen because of the ever-growing vegetation and trees covering over it. It was rare to run across someone else using the trails at the same time.
I worry — as do the great many equestrians in attendance — about this new master plan not including or mentioning equestrian use. And the trend is for these new and improved parks to become closed to horses.
So I was thrilled when Linda Morin was handed the microphone and said: “I’m a member of the Peninsula Chapter of Back Country Horsemen and I haven’t heard anything about equestrians having access to that new park, and honestly my feelings are hurt because Back Country Horseman have built a lot of those trails.
“And you know what? We’ve got volunteers in their 70s out there with cross-cutting saws after big storms, cleaning up those trails. We’ve got people out there daily cleaning up the trash, alerting park staff of suspicious activity and helping keep the trails clear for passage. And to me, it feels a little bit like the parks department looked around the state and saw this beautiful jewel that we built and now want to take away from the local community.”
One man suggested the park service was missing out on “Having their cake and eating it too,” by leaving the park as it is since “all of it’s been developed by volunteer labor from those living in the community. Building up the area, building the trails and just keeping an eye on the whole place.”
And that it would be better to build up an area on “both sides of the highway that already have water, sewage and even a hotel” (referring to 7 Cedars hotel). And then let those visitors know Miller Peninsula is a good place to “hike, ride your bicycle or ride a horse.”
It was brought out the entire area is an already a destination point for tourists, as shown by the number of out-of-town visitors who come for the Lavender Festival, and those dollars spent benefit the entire community, as opposed to the planned lodge’s proceeds benefiting state parks.
Other attendees asked “why do we need another destination park for tourists when we already have Sequim Bay State Park for overnight stays, as well as Hurricane Ridge?”
Keeping in mind there’s only one road to enter and exit the entire Diamond Point area, and the many who live in Gardiner use, to, some pleaded, “Please don’t put us in an impossible traffic situation because we live here.”
Some brought up the point that, since the pandemic, more people have moved permanently to Diamond Point because they can now work virtually from home. This has already increased traffic, as well as taken a greater draw on the community well water.
Several mentioned the rise in crime in recent years and that a greater police presence should be built into the master plan’s budget. Others worried about more homeless people trying to live in the park. Another spoke about the number of accidents already occurring at the hairpin turn at the intersection of Diamond Point and Cat Lake Road.
Another was concerned how it would affect emergency services, such as an ambulance or fire engine not being able to get through to residents due to increasing traffic on the only road leading to and from homes.
I kept thinking, “Who is behind this big push to make Miller Peninsula a large recreational park for tourists?” I didn’t get an answer confirmed.
One questioned, “What is the current land classification for the park?”
The answer was: “The park isn’t classified yet. So this project, as it’s completed, will involve several decisions that our commission will have to make. And one of those will be on the land classifications for the park. One of them will be on the long-term park boundary. Another one will be on what the park should be renamed. And another one would be on the land use or the master plan for the park as well.
“When we get funding to continue this work, we’re going to do additional environmental impact studies before we can proceed.”
And they hope to secure water rights for the park.
Some asked for a fourth option “for the community who doesn’t want any change to the park, but if something’s going to happen, we want it to be a lot more minimal than what you’re suggesting.”
Naturally, those in the audience wanted assurances those high-impact master plans wouldn’t proceed. We were told the commissioners were there to listen, and they couldn’t actually make an official opinion, because all the commissioners weren’t there.
“So I know that might seem frustrating,” Hankinson said. “But I can assure you that they will definitely have a position that will be official at some point, but it won’t be tonight.”
Was it just another evening of blowing in the wind? Time will tell.
For more information, visit http://bit.ly/MillerPenPlan or email Michael Hankinson at email@example.com.
Karen Griffiths’ column, Peninsula Horseplay, appears the second and fourth Saturday of each month.
If you have a horse event, clinic or seminar you would like listed, please email Griffiths at firstname.lastname@example.org at least two weeks in advance. You can also call her at 360-460-6299.