Even on a rainy spring day, Friends Landing attracts visitors.
The gravel-pit-turned-park near Montesano attracts fishermen and boaters with its 32-acre lake, dog walkers and joggers with its 1.7-mile paved loop and campers during its April to November camping season.
But it’s had trouble keeping board members. Friends Landing & Sterling Landing President Chuck Caldwell asked the Port of Grays Harbor last month to consider incorporating the parks as part of its properties. Caldwell is also a Port commissioner.
Satsop Business Park Manager of Business Development Alissa Shay led Port staff and Commission President Stan Pinnick on a tour of the park Friday afternoon.
“What they’ve offered is they would transfer it to us, basically like Satsop Business Park,” Shay said.
Though commissioners asked staff to report on the amenities and financial implications of taking on the parks, it was clear Friday that, ultimately, the choice wasn’t about money.
“We’re not in the business to make money, we’re in the business to provide opportunity,” Pinnick said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the Port and the county to keep all this going. I’m honored to be asked to keep it going. Part of our charge with tourism is to provide recreation opportunities and bring people into the county. … The first impression is very favorable.”
Friends Landing is a 152-acre handicap-accessible park with waterfront access. It was founded as a volunteer effort using land donated by the Friend family to Trout Unlimited, a conservation organization, to create space for people with mobility issues to enjoy the outdoors. The final phase, paving the loop around the lake, was completed in 1999.
“There are handicap-accessible facilities, but not comparable to this,” Shay said.
The park offers many amenities, but has a highly inconsistent revenue stream. The Port compiled some rough financials from data provided by the non-profit operating the park, and found it closed 2013 $20,315 in the red.
The year before, the non-profit sold some property and closed $19,840.45 in the black.
“It’s really fluid, based on donations,” Shay said.
Visitors can walk and fish for free. Taking a boat on the lake has a suggested donation of $2. RV campers pay $25 a night and tent campers $15 per night. RV campers brought in the lions share of the revenue over the past three years, with $33,488 in 2011, $33,347 in 2012 and $31,764 in 2013.
The Port will look at all the fees the park currently collects, but Pinnick said he doesn’t anticipate making any major changes.
“The purpose is public access, so I can’t really see us increasing things,” Shay noted.
Numbers were not distributed for Sterling Landing, which is 30 acres of undeveloped land with a gravel boat launch on the Wynooche River just outside Montesano.
Pinnick said he’s confident the Port could absorb the relatively consistent expenses. Over the past three years, the costs of operating Friends Landing have gone from $56,450 to $61,122 to $62,033.
“We can plan for it and look for recreation land grants and support from groups that maybe support this already,” he said.
“We caution we’re not looking at it as a revenue source, we’re looking at it as public access for people to use the park,” Shay said. “I think with our marketing ability we can really increase usage.”
“It’s a best-kept secret, that’s for sure,” Port Public Affairs Specialist Kayla Dunlap added.
In the summer, occupancy at the camp sites is about 50 percent, Shay said. The rest of the season, it hovers between 30 and 40 percent.
It’s not open year-round because it sits on the 100-year flood plain, she added.
Commissioners will need to consider maintenance on the horizon, which may include shoring up the bank where the Chehalis River influences the lake. The shoreline is wearing away and exposing supports for a walking bridge. In several areas of the trail, tree roots have warped the surface. No cost estimates are yet available.
The Port would also need to keep up permits for water and wastewater in the camping area, and likely get new permits to do repairs or new projects.
“The kind of permitting that needs to be done here is in our bailiwick,” Shay said.
The official staff report was scheduled to be given to the commissioners at today’s meeting. A decision may be made as soon as the Port’s June 10 meeting.
“We’ll decide after that report if we need more information, and probably we’ll take a look at it at the following meeting if there’s not a big, long list of things to do,” Pinnick said. “But staff has been working pretty hard, so we anticipate a lot of really good information.”
The Port commissioners meet the second Tuesday of each month at 9 a.m. in the Port’s main office at 111 S. Wooding St., Aberdeen.