New state park in Mason County will remain ‘wild'
HARSTINE ISLAND — When Fudge Point becomes a full-fledged, fully-developed state park in two, 10 or 20 years, it will look much as it does today: a long, sandy beach crowned by a steep bluff and a densely-wooded hillside.
Washington State Parks commissioners on Thursday approved a management plan that will leave the 141-acre Mason County property mostly as-is.
“Our overall vision for Fudge Point is that it remain a wild place with minimal development,” park planner Michael Hankinson said.
The property is on Harstine Island, about 7 miles east of Shelton. It was acquired in two stages. The first 66 acres, which includes the property’s more than 3,000 feet of shoreline, was purchased in 2012 for $2.5 million. The second portion — 75 acres on the uplands — was acquired in 2013 for $658,000. Most of the money came from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program, which funds public lands acquisitions and improvements. Park officials have applied for additional state funding to buy another 47 acres.
Although it is not promoted or maintained as a state park, the public is allowed to visit. Its driveway on the 1000 block of East Ballow Road is gated, but visitors are permitted to walk or bike in. Boaters can access the park from the shore.
The property’s plan would allow up to 25 campsites and no more than five cabins. The developed area would be limited to an upland area no larger than 20 acres. This area could have camping, parking, picnic shelters, bathrooms, park offices and a visitors center. A second parking lot and bathroom is planned near the beach.
A 5-acre lagoon and estuary would be protected as wildlife habitat. The area attracts smelt and other forage fish that are a key food source for salmon and other marine predators.
The upland area was heavily logged in the 1980s and is now dominated by thick stands of alders and shrubs.
Park planners say the property’s main attraction will be its beach, which juts into Case Inlet and offers views of the Key Peninsula and Mount Rainier.
There’s no money to develop the park, and officials predict it’ll take two or more years before any funding trickles in.
The property lacks water, sewer and other basic infrastructure. Development cost estimates range from $3 million to $15 million.
“It needs a mile of road,” Hankinson said. “Than could be expensive, and so will a water system and a sanitary system.”
The state parks system has seen its tax-supported funding plummet in recent years. While the new state budget showed a modest uptick in funding, park leaders say Fudge Point’s full potential might not be realized for decades.
“This could sit in the wings for 20 years but it has all the characteristics for what we want in a park for the future,” said Commissioner Pat Lantz, of Gig Harbor.
Some neighbors oppose the property’s use as a park. Concerns about noise, fires, crime, traffic, trespassing, theft, environmental damage and the looting of nearby commercial shellfish beds were voiced at the 12 meetings park officials have held about the property.
Nearby resident Calvin Ison said the property’s already attracting a rowdy boating crowd.
“Six big boats came, cranking up the music for about four hours,” he said. “We’re a quarter-mile away and we can hear that.”
Ison and other Harstine residents asked that camping not be allowed at the park. The commission debated but eventually backed camping.
“This park is for all Washingtonians,” said Commissioner Ken Bounds of Seattle. “I respect the (Harstine) community … but we want to allow the enjoyment of all recreators. I don’t see any reason to eliminate (camping) for the future.”
Eliminating camping would make it less of a statewide draw and more like a local park, Commissioner Steve Milner said.
“Overnight users represent a broader aspect of the state,” the Chelan resident said. “I like a plan that embraces the state and avoids a scenario where it’s like a municipal or city park.”
Harstine has an especially high concentration of state park lands. The 19-square-mile island has 56-acre Jarrell Cove State Park, a 471-acre property informally known as Harstine Island State Park and a 100-acre state parkland known as the Scott property. Twelve-acre McMicken Island State Park is less than a mile north of Fudge Point.