A Seattle businessman and rowing enthusiast who devoted some 30 years to a dream of creating a world-class rowing course and a 1,000-acre park on Pierce County’s Lake Kapowsin says he’s halting that quest.
In a letter to supporters of a regional park on the lake, William Pickard said he feared his proposal was undermining community debate on the state Department of Natural Resources plan to declare the lake the state’s first freshwater aquatic reserve. That designation, which would have prevented Pickard from building a rowing course, could pre-empt local management of the 515-acre lake.
Pickard’s decision came in the wake of a community meeting last month attended by nearly 100 people. Those who attended said no clear majority appeared to favor Pickard’s plan or that of the Department of Natural Resources.
“Having slept on it, I believe the right thing to do is to suspend any discussion of a park or rowing, and for me to go away,” he said. “That leaves the field clear for cooler heads who want to guide the debate back to a discussion of local control vs. the aquatic reserve.”
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Pickard’s proposal had called for creating a rowing course in the center of the lake for national, regional and international rowing competitions and youth training programs, and a large regional park encircling the lake for hiking, biking and other activities.
The idea faces another possible hurdle from a Texas-based company, which is exploring creating a large-lot subdivision on about 100 acres on the lake’s western shore. Sherwood Forest LLC has hired a Chehalis-based surveying company to lay out proposed lots and to begin the permitting process to allow lot sales.
If the Texas company carries out its plan, about 400 acres of uplands would remain for a park. Other land around the lake is owned by Tacoma Public Utilities, the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe and a large timber company.
But the state and the county don’t have the money to buy the land yet, and Pickard’s plan, which relied on the rowing activity to generate income and donations, wouldn’t work if the aquatic reserve were established.
DNR’s aquatic reserve plan and the rowing course are mutually exclusive because the aquatic reserve would preserve hundreds of submerged trees left when a volcanic mudflow swept down from Mount Rainier 500 years ago, killing the forest, blocking Kapowsin Creek and forming the lake.
Pickard and his allies proposed removing enough of those trees to clear a channel for rowing. Those trees would be relocated to other parts of the lake, where thousands more snags would remain.
DNR wants the lake to remain as a living laboratory and history book of the ancient eruption. Pickard says the lake has already been significantly altered by man. Early settlers chopped off the tops of those trees that were then extending above the water, and logging left thousands of logs littering the bottom of the lake.
Pickard, who was an intercollegiate rower and coach, said the lake has unusual properties that would make it a superior rowing course. The lake is largely sheltered from the wind and, at 2.5 miles long, is large enough to host several lanes of rowing.
Pickard’s proposal had attracted political support from the Pierce County Council and from several legislators. The park proposal had been included in the formal Graham Community Plan.
County Councilman Jim McCune, whose district includes the lake, said he thought the park was a good idea.
“It was a nice opportunity to use a private partnership to build a public park,” he said. But without Pickard, the idea could lose momentum. “Whatever happens, happens,” McCune said.
Pickard said he fears that without a source of money to buy the uplands, the shoreline could become dotted with homes and commercial developments.
According to preliminary plans submitted to Pierce County, Sherwood Forest LLC would divide its property into 10 lots. Most of the lots would be 10 acres with a central site of some 56 acres.
Sherwood Forest did not return calls seeking comment on their plans. County planners said the limited liability company has yet to schedule a conference to discuss its preliminary ideas for the property.
A lakeshore park could be possible under the Department of Natural Resources plan. The aquatic reserve designation would control activities only on the lake, not on the surrounding land. The state has said it would continue to allow fishing on the lake.
But Pickard says that the money to support the park will come from the on-water activities it supports, and an aquatic reserve would curtail those uses.
“The lake and the uplands can still — someday — be an awesome park,” he wrote to supporters. “... It may take many years — but at least without an aquatic reserve, the possibility will remain.”
DNR spokesman Joe Smillie said the state agency is scheduling further public hearings June 8 and June 29 to answer questions from residents about the aquatic reserve program. Locations and times for the hearings have yet to be set.
“There were a number of questions from the last meeting that we would like to answer,” he said.
John Gillie: 253-597-8663