State parks failing at Palouse Falls, Lyons
Last updated 1/31/2024 at 1:26pm
Two years ago, Washington State Parks bureaucrats in Tumwater hatched a plan to address so-called "overcrowding" at Palouse Falls.
The plan was to close and relocate the campground to Lyons Ferry, require permits to visit Upper Palouse Falls and to end hiking and exploring in and around the main Palouse Falls basin. The effort also eliminated kayaking access on the upper Palouse River.
And to make the effort sound legitimate, those city-dwelling bureaucrats called Palouse Falls a "heritage" area and invited several tribes – some of which are not from the immediate area – to plan for the park's future.
Those bureaucrats quietly planned and hosted so-called public meetings – but they didn't inform the nearby general public beforehand. When they were called on that failure, they scheduled and announced additional meetings for November 2021.
Regardless of the meetings, the bureaucrats and tribes had already planned the demise of Palouse Falls opportunities. And it only two months longer to shut down camping, hiking and kayaking.
Before the 2022 tourism season, the reasons many Eastern Washingtonians enjoy visiting Palouse Falls State Park were eliminated under the guise of "overcrowding."
In an attempt to mitigate closure objections, state officials promised an upgraded visitor experience at the scenic viewpoint overlooking the main falls. And they promised brand new camping amenities about 6 miles downriver at Lyons Ferry State Park.
They were empty promises.
Fast forward two more years, and all we have is the state-mandated shutdown of Palouse Falls hiking and camping. And no, there aren't any campsites downstream at Lyons Ferry.
Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said last week he was told that developing campsites at Lyons Ferry could take a minimum of six more years. In his words, "This is unacceptable."
Washington State Parks officials are blaming the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the failure. But it's not the Corps' problem. It's a problem left on the table by inept state parks officials.
I don't recall parks officials ever announcing publicly that camping would take nearly a decade to return after their planned closure. Had they done so, I'm sure there would've been a louder public outcry over their disingenuous plans.
The loss of long-established recreation at Palouse Falls carries a negative economic impact.
Local businesses get a much-needed shot in the arm from hikers and campers. They buy food, gas, supplies and more. In our small towns – especially Kahlotus, Washtucna and Starbuck, the closest communities to Palouse Falls and Lyons Ferry – every dollar counts for businesses fighting to remain open.
But parks officials don't seem to care. They accomplished what they wanted – to strip Eastern Washingtonians and visitors of recreational opportunities at Palouse Falls. And they've washed their hands of complaints about their failed plans.
Parks officials could reopen camping and hiking at Palouse Falls before the weather warms. But they won't. They could seek concessionaires to offer camping here. But they won't. And both state parks and the Army Corps of Engineers could fast-track camping development. But they won't.
Having grown up here in Eastern Washington, I've hiked and camped at Palouse Falls countless times. I've wandered through the 6-foot sage, hiked to the top of Palouse Falls, scrambled down the basin walls and watched kayakers navigate the smaller upper falls. I avoided the rattlesnakes, removed ticks, snuck up on rock chucks and watched the soaring eagles.
At Lyons Ferry, I've spent many a day picnicking, swimming, boating and bass fishing over the years. There isn't a better play to lie in the cool grass when temperatures hit 105 degrees along the Snake River.
Of course, I brought visitors to enjoy both with me, so they see what it's like to be from Eastern Washington.
Outdoor recreation here wasn't a problem until state parks bureaucrats 280 miles away decided they knew how best to manage our "remote" park.
When it comes to Palouse Falls and Lyons Ferry, it's time Washington State Parks gets out of the way. Local control through Adams and Franklin Counties would be far better.
– Roger Harnack is the publisher of Free Press Publishing. Email him at [email protected].