State to seek $600K for Miller Peninsula park plan, study

State park officials are looking at putting forth a request for $600,000 for creation of a master plan and environmental impact study of Miller Peninsula State Park in the next state biennial budget.

Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission members got an overview of planned capital projects — about $175 million worth — at its meeting held July 13-14 in Anacortes.

Park staff originally had more funding set aside for development of the Sequim-area property, noted Kyle Murphy, state parks Capital Program Manager, but based on conversations with stakeholders decided to focus on a master plan and EIS.

“We did make a slight deviation from [projects] commission’s direction based on feedback and ongoing feedback from the community around Miller Peninsula,” Murphy said, in detailing park staff recommendations for capital projects on July 14.

“We’ve determined that it’d be prudent to take a step back, request operating funding for continued master planning and an EIS process.”

State planning in the area has been a contentious subject for many nearby residents and those who use the park. Many have urged the State Parks system to curb park development plans, to keep the 2,800-acre-plus site on the Miller Peninsula State Park mostly undeveloped.

The park, which already includes a trail system built and maintained by local hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians through second-growth forest, has long been targeted by state planners as a “destination park.”

Since at least the mid-2000s, and in 2007, parks officials have approved a vision for park “nature within reach,” with options that include a central village lodging and amenities, wildlife viewing, interpretive displays and day and night use (lodging and camping).

In a January meeting, Nicki Fields — planning lead for the State Parks system — detailed three primary options for Miller Peninsula State Park: Immersed in Nature, Village Center and Traditional.

The Immersed in Nature concept, she detailed, spreads out a number of nature-focused amenities, with two main camping loops in the park’s center and primarily undeveloped areas on the park’s west side.

The Village Center option sees most development in the parks center around a lodge, with two camping loops, an education center, amphitheater, climbing walls and multi-use open lawn area nearby.

The third option, Traditional, offers three relatively large camping loops with about 70, 45 and 40 campsites, a 20-person group camping loop and a day-use area in the Northwest portion of the park, with activities or features including a botanical garden, amphitheater, amphibian pond, artist space and more.

In the parks’ July meeting, commissioner Michael Latimer said the State Parks’ real estate committee talked about the three alternatives, and were interested in the Village Center option.

“I believe from our real estate committee meeting, we … landed on the Village Center option, in order to sort of maximize forest preservation and … build a center where we can cater to park visitors,” he said on July 14.

“We did talk about the fact that there’s been varying degrees of public support and that we need to continue to work with local and regional stakeholders.”

Sue Gilman, a Sequim resident and chair of a local group seeking to preserve what Miller Peninsula State Park offers, spoke in person at the July 14 meeting in Anacortes.

“We wanted a fourth concept — we made that very clear — that would make the park really unique, not the cookie-cutter park: tear down trees, put in roads, destroy habitat,” Gilman told commissioners.

“It would be something that Washingtonians, the government, governor, could look back on and say this is about climate change environment.

“It’s not a destination park. It’s for people who don’t want to be in their RVs and watch TV. They want to get out and walk the park, ride horses, be with nature. This plan to make this a village, for us, is just not acceptable.”

Gilman said she and other were frustrated that it seems decisions have already been made about what the park will become.

“There’s been no transparency as long as we are concerned,” she said.

“It’s very disappointed to hear that everything we have put out, in letters and everything, have not been heard, and we were really hoping to get a fourth [concept] put in before this village is put in.”

Gilman wasn’t alone in expressing concerns. The majority of July 14 meeting’s public comment time from meeting virtual attendees were from citizens concerned about development of Miller Peninsula property.

Sequim resident Liam Antrim said the state should scale down plans for the park and instead design it with an ecological focus.

“I don’t think developing a lodge or resort restaurant … in competition with private industry is anything the state park should be doing,” he said.

David LeRoux of Sequim said the Miller Peninsula property is a great “natural” park that costs the state “virtually nothing.”

“If you want to spend the money, the money should be spent just down the road on Sequim Bay State Park,” he told commissioners.

Beach access is nearly impossible at Miller Peninsula State Park, he noted: one narrow ravine leads to the shoreline.

“Sequim Bay State Park has plenty of beach access; if you put the money in there, it will go a long way,” LeRoux said.

Yellowstone National park is being rebuilt, LeRoux noted, with climate change issues a key consideration of how that park should be reconstructed.

“Why can’t we build a natural park that has climate change in mind?” LeRoux asked. “And that means not cutting down any trees.

“Let’s have a natural park in Washington [state], a natural park we can promote.”

Dudley Ross echoed those sentiments.

“I’m urging you to drop the Village [Center] option in the planning process,” he told commissioners.

“On may levels it’s inappropriate and not what we need in the future state parks.”

Ross said he hoped the state would keep the Miller Peninsula property a “hiking, biking and horseback area with minimal development.”

“I really think that’s what people in the future are going to need,” Ross said. “Our world is changing, and we need to, too.”

Debi Maloney said there are many issues stakeholders have with State Parks’ Miller Peninsula park plans, including water access, fire danger, traffic and infrastructure, along with beach access safety and environmental impact.

She also urged state officials to plan for little or no development.

“There are thousands of Washingtonians for whom undeveloped natural park landscapes is the best kind of park,” Maloney said.

“[This park] is a beautiful example of how a battered landscape, left along for 20 years, can renew itself, grow and provide diverse habitat areas [for] many species.”

Their comments echoed concerns about the park’s viability for development that state officials collected in June 2021.

Gilman asked park staff about the overall cost of a “destination park” at Miller Peninsula; given its size, about twice as that of the proposed, new Nisqually State Park, would it also cost about twice as much as the Nisqually property (projected at $30 million)?

“It’s hard to estimate without going through scoping and master plan,” Murphy said.

He said State Parks staff will have a complete capital budget build-out in August and will need to make the park system’s 2023-2025 Capital Budget request to the Office of Financial Management by September.

The $175 million in State Parks capital projects includes about $45.5 million in unspent funds from current biennial budget along with $130 million in “new” funding. Those dollars, he detailed on July 14, would support 110 projects — 57 new and 53 re-appropriated — with 250 miles of new or improved (designed, permitted or constructed) trails throughout the state, along with 60 new campsites and more than 100 designed, permitted or constructed sites.

In 2005, the Washington State Parks system began a six-year project to establish one of Washington’s next destination state parks, but shelved those plans with a lack of secure funding.

Since then, Miller Peninsula has seen some development. Volunteers added signage on the property’s 20-mile trail system, one that is popular among hikers, mountain bikers and equestrians.

The Peninsula Trails Coalition in 2017 developed a trailhead at the adjacent Diamond Point Road to go along with the addition of two more large sections of the Olympic Discovery Trail.

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