The topic at a Whatcom County Council meeting Tuesday morning, Feb. 26, was not whether the county should take over 8,844 acres of state-managed timberland around Lake Whatcom and turn it into a park.
But to reconvey or not to reconvey was the question on the minds of many of those attending the meeting, which was really a discussion about how the state plans recreation sites on forest lands.
The council is considering whether to reconvey, or transfer, the acreage on the western and eastern flanks of the Lake Whatcom watershed from state to county control. A vote for the reconveyance is effectively a vote in favor of a county park, and it could come as early as the March 12 council meeting.
County Parks and Recreation has provisional plans to build a low-impact park with hiking, bicycling, horseback riding, hunting and other activities on the land, while taking those 8,844 acres out of timber production.
Another recreation plan could be in the offing for the county, as officials from the Department of Natural Resources outlined on Tuesday.
If funded by the Legislature, and if the county is selected - both of which appear probable - then the state will lead a two-year planning effort to create a new trail-based recreation area.
Construction could take many more years, depending on availability of funds. Full build-out of a recreation area could cost $10 million or more, said Kyle Blum, the DNR's deputy supervisor for state uplands.
DNR officials won't rule out Lake Whatcom as a recreation site, but county officials have said the area is not amenable to a DNR-style plan, which usually includes trails for all-terrain vehicles and motorcycles.
Parks and Recreation Director Mike McFarlane has said his staff will wait until the Lake Whatcom lands are transferred before working out the details of a county park plan. The vision is based on county planning documents and calls for nonmotorized activities to avoid erosion and excessive polluted runoff into the lake.
During public comment, resident Greg Brown complimented the state for developing "a real plan" with "a real budget."
"It's not a vision, it's a plan," said Brown, in an oblique criticism of the county approach.
Those who support the reconveyance, including ultra runner Daniel Probst, said working with the county would be preferable. The state denied him permits twice for trail events on Blanchard Mountain, he said.