NISQUALLY, MASHEL LAND: State, Nisqually Tribe create partnership to develop new park

The Nisqually Indian Tribe and Washington State Parks have signed a partnership agreement for the development of Nisqually State Park.

The 1,300 acres of the undeveloped park are three miles southwest of Eatonville on state Route 7, at the confluence of the Nisqually River, Mashel River and Ohop Creek. The park includes steep-sided forest valleys, high ridges, reforested plateaus in the Mount Rainier foothills and nearly 5 12 miles of shoreline. Much of the land is in Pierce County, but a small section is in Thurston County.

The first phase of the development plans, funded by a recreation program grant, calls for a trailhead facility that will include a parking lot and restroom. The new trailhead facility is expected to be open by July 2015.

“This partnership is a natural for us, and we’re excited to be working with the Nisqually Tribe,” State Parks Director Don Hoch said in a prepared statement. “We look forward to the tribe sharing the story of this culturally significant area, and we know that this will benefit the public in connecting people to their state’s heritage. The park location also serves as a gateway to Mount Rainier National Park and will increase recreation opportunities in this important region.”

Tribal Chairwoman Cynthia Iyall said the partnership is ”very good news.”

“This agreement is so important to the Nisqually Tribe,” Iyall said in a statement. “The Mashel area is very close to our hearts as our ancestral homeland, as the birthplace of Chief Leschi and as critical habitat for salmon recovery. We’re so proud to be a part of protecting and restoring this landscape for future generations to enjoy as a refuge and place of healing.”

The agreement also realizes an early vision of a tribal development partnership as part of the park’s master plan, according to a State Parks news release. The plan and park name both were adopted by the State Parks Commission in 2010.

The agency’s Centennial 2013 plan, adopted in 2003, called for the creation of new state parks, including one along the Nisqually River. After some initial momentum, development of the park has been hampered by the lack of funding within the department.

The idea of the park predates the centennial plan. In 1987, the state Legislature approved the Nisqually River management plan, which called for a major destination area park/put-in site at the confluence of the Nisqually and Mashel rivers, and trails up the Mashel River.

The property was acquired between 1991-2013, with funding from the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program. Total cost of the acquisition was $6 million.

The partnership is a first step. The agency and tribe will soon begin the next phase of the partnership agreement, which will specifically address how the partners will work together to acquire, develop and manage the park.

More information about the planning process for the park is available at parks.wa.gov/336/Nisqually.