Fort Worden to remain a state park

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

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PORT TOWNSEND — The State Parks and Recreation Commission on Thursday said that Fort Worden will remain a state park, and that it supports the idea of a public developmenst authority managing a lifelong learning center there.

A resolution approved unanimously by the seven-member commission also said that, before the commission takes final action on the governance of the learning center, there will be “ample opportunity for the public, stakeholders and the Legislature to learn about and express their views to the commission.”

The Fort Worden Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority has been directed to submit a business plan for managing the learning center no later than Sept. 1.

The resolution “recognizes that the Fort Worden Lifelong Learning Center Public Development Authority does not seek a transfer of the entire park,” the resolution said.

“The commission affirms its intention to maintain ownership of Fort Worden State Park and to ensure that Fort Worden will remain a state park,” it said.

The public development authority on Monday had decided against asking for oversight of the entire park.

Instead, it plans to seek a 99-year lease on the park’s educationally-oriented buildings, which it would then develop into an academic campus, called a lifelong learning center, that offers a series of educational and recreational options.

No mention of the lease was made during the state commission’s meeting Thursday at Fort Worden State Park.

“We have a challenge in that we want to preserve these buildings in a way that is consistent with the vision of a lifelong learning center and we need to do that on a sustained long-term basis,” said Commissioner Mark O. Brown on Thursday.

The resolution the commissioners approved had been revised Wednesday night to accommodate the testimony presented at a public meeting that evening.

Those testifying on Wednesday night were united in their respect for the park near Port Townsend and its place in the area’s recreational and economic picture but had diverging opinions about its future management.

“For everyone who uses this park, it is not just an extraordinary piece of geography, but a creative refuge, a recreational paradise and for many a site of personal transformation,” said Thatcher Bailey, former director of Centrum, which is housed on the park grounds.

“The commitment we have made is not to maintain access for all but to increase access, to revitalize and restore under-used or shuttered buildings, to serve a broader public, and to attract the financial and human resources to supplement what the state can afford to invest,” Bailey said.

Bailey was one of 45 people, approximately half of those who were in attendance, who provided public testimony in a two-and-a-half-hour session at the Joseph Wheeler Theater on the Fort Worden campus.

Many of those speaking on Wednesday were doing so for the third time, having given their views the different proposals about how the lifelong learning center should be managed at meetings held by the public development authority on Feb. 17 and March 15.

The possibility of transfer of title of Fort Worden from the State Parks system to the PDA — an idea that is now moot — was met with considerable public resistance.

“The PDA has heard the concerns raised in our public meetings and several other forums, and it has altered its perceptions and our directions,” said Scott Wilson, a public development authority board member and the editor and publisher of The Leader, a weekly covering Port Townsend and East Jefferson County, on Wednesday.

“The PDA board voted on Monday that we would no longer seek the transfer of Fort Worden State Park,” he said.

“We want to take that option off the table.”

Several of those testifying implored the state commission to maintain full control over the park.

“We want the state to manage Fort Worden as a public trust for all the people in the state of Washington,” said Jim Buckley.

Buckley also spoke against the long-term lease proposal.

“We would like the commission to go slow and not make any decision about transferring title and management to the PDA — even a partial transfer under the subterfuge of a 99-year lease — until we have had a chance to express our views to the commission,” he said

At the Wednesday meeting — a listening session with no action taken — some worried that any transfer of management to the PDA would adversely affect the renovation of Building 202 into the new home of Peninsula College and Goddard College.

Interim Peninsula College President Brinton Sprague said the renovation was on track to be finished in 2014 and would proceed regardless of action taken on park governance.

Several people said that the park was already a lifelong learning center and did not need a formal designation.

“The PDA has talked about establishing schools for small engine repair and printing trades,” said Terry McCulloch.

“If this happens, it will put local shops out of business, because the schools will be able to provide services with no labor costs.”

Others testified that further developing the park into a lifelong learning center is an essential opportunity.

“For almost a decade there has been a movement to transform the Fort Worden collaborative to the next level, to let Fort Worden become a gift to those who come to nourish themselves, to participate and learn, to grow and bring this gift to others,” said Bill Wise, Economic Development Council Team Jefferson chairman.

“There has been a lot of talk about how the PDA has no business plan,”

Said John Begley, former Port Townsend Paper Corp., president: “The potential to work with the local community and both regional and national entities offers tremendous potential if we are willing to step out of our comfort zone and I urge the commission to create a public/private partnership and develop this spectacular location into a lifelong learning center.”

Several speakers referred to the park system’s precarious financial state, which the PDA’s management of the lifelong learning center would either improve or destroy, depending on who was talking.

Others said that the people who use the park should bear more of the responsibility.

“I would like to see a booth at the entrance to the fort and I would be willing to man that booth, to charge everyone who comes onto Fort Worden an entrance fee or require a Discover Pass,” said park volunteer Linda Braun.

“We need to hang on to these state parks,” she added.

“I beg you, don’t give any more of them away.”

________

Jefferson County Reporter Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or charlie.bermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: March 29. 2012 6:12PM
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