Washington State Parks and Recreation staff read each written comment from the public.
Washington State Parks and Recreation staff read each written comment from the public.

Planning for the future of Wallace Falls State Park has officially begun. Residents were invited to help kickoff the process during a meeting last Wednesday night at Sultan City Hall.

Washington State Parks planner Randy Kline led the session, explaining the project will involve four stages and the public will be asked to weigh in at each one. The first is to glean information, which was the goal of the gathering in Sultan.

“This is really your opportunity to tell us what you want us to know,” said Washington State Parks region manager Shawn Tobin.

There are currently around 100 of Washington’s 120 state parks with a land use plan created through an agency-wide system called Classification and Management Planning, or CAMP. According to Washington State Parks, it takes 10-15 months to complete one. The final product should incorporate zoning sections of the park under state code to preserve heritage, recreation and natural forest areas, among others, and classify the level of land use from low to high.

Having a long-term plan for potential acquisitions and revised park boundaries, as well as a management plan, will also be a result of the work, Kline said. Strengthening community partnerships is an expected and desired byproduct. 

Wallace Falls park manager Kevin Lease gave a brief history of the land and its resources. It officially opened around 1977. Sections of the forest were logged in the early 1900s. The state-protected area was named after Wallace River, which was a nod to early homesteading families.

The 1,380-acre park features three lakes, 13 waterfalls, three backcountry sites, five miles of mountain biking and 12 miles of hiking trails, Lease said. It is home to two rare plant species — the Gnome Plant and Pine-Foot, which are tiny wildflowers that grow no taller than 10 centimeters, according to the United State Forest Service.

Lease said geocaching, wildlife viewing, fishing and snowshoeing are a few of the many recreational activities pursued within the park, which Kline said about 225,000 people visited in 2016. It is primarily a day-use park, although the five cabins inside its boundaries are very popular, Lease said.

He said parking is one of the major issues he anticipates the plan will resolve. There are only 108 stalls available, and often neighboring property owners are the ones who experience the repercussions.

“It’s something we want to address as much as you do,” Kline said.

He said the lack of parking space is an issue at parks throughout the state. Sky Valley resident Eileen Hambleton said she came to comment on the parking and advocate for expanding the trail system.

Hambleton has been visiting the park with her family for the nearly 30 years they have lived in the area. She went with her children — her son supports the biking trails — and now goes with her grandchildren.

“It’s really a multigenerational park,” she said.

Attendees at Wednesday’s meeting were given an hour to look over maps and talk to staff about the intricacies of the park. They were asked to leave whatever ideas they could think of and encouraged not to hold any back. 

At the end, the employees read each written comment aloud. One resident requested the state preserve a potential linkage between the Wild Sky Wilderness and Wallace Falls while it is still possible, and another asked for the allowance of horse camping, and expanded law enforcement was suggested.

The feedback will be integrated into the next part of the process, Kline said. Over the next few months staff will develop a series of planning alternatives to address the issues that came out during last week’s meeting. A follow-up public forum will be held once the plans are complete in a couple months.

Kline said preliminary recommendations will be brought forward based on their review and revision of the proposed alternatives a few months after that. Once vetted again by the public, the final draft will be presented to the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.

Kline said comments will be most useful if received by Dec. 31, although they can be submitted to the agency until the plan is approved. Anyone wishing to do so can email randy.kline@parks.wa.gov or call 360-902-8632.