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County reveals plan for developing former Glacier site

The former Glacier mining site on Maury Island will one day boast a maintained trail system, a parking lot, a picnic area, viewpoints and interpretive signs, if a plan proposed by King County this month moves forward.

After months of planning, the county’s Department of Natural Resources and Parks (DNRP) is ready to present a draft management plan for the 250-acre site, which it purchased in 2010. Officials will discuss the plan and take comments at a public meeting on Vashon next week.

“Right now (the site) is somewhat underutilized, but that will change as a park or natural area gets developed,” said John Gerstle, a Maury Island resident who is part of a citizen advisory group that has vetted how Vashon and King County should use the large open space, which boasts nearly a mile of shoreline, madrone forests and sweeping views of Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier.

“I think it will be really treasured, not just now but 50 or 100 years from now,” Gerstle said.

The 14-person committee has been meeting monthly since last August and has made a raft of recommendations to the county, most of which were incorporated into the draft management plan that will be presented next week. A final plan will be forwarded to the state Department of Ecology (DOE), which will dictate what kind of soil remediation must happen before work begins at the site. The area is contaminated with lead and arsenic from the historic Tacoma Smelter Plume.

“We are all trying to move this forward so we can get to the cleanup portion,” said Connie Blumen, DNRP’s Natural Lands Program Manager who has worked closely with the committee.

Under the county’s draft plan, current trails at the site would all be maintained — though no new ones built — and a small, gravel parking lot would be added at the end of S.W. 264th Street, on the property’s western border. The county would also build a picnic shelter or picnic areas with an outhouse and regrade some of the land closest to the shore for easier access to the beach.

Per the committee’s request, the county also hopes to install interpretive signs around the property. The signs would tell not only of the site’s ecology but its history, from when Native Americans inhabited Maury Island to when the county, in a watershed moment, purchased the site from Glacier Northwest, a subsidiary of a Japanese-based corporation that had plans to significantly expand its mining operations there.

Amy Carey, a technical advisor on the committee and director of Preserve Our Islands, the nonprofit that was instrumental in bringing the purchase to fruition, said she was pleased with the county’s plans to do some minimal development at the site, encouraging recreational use.

“A great group of people has been working for months on this, and we put together a very thoughtful management recommendation that reflects the value of the site, both to the community and from an ecological perspective as well,” she said.

The 250-acre swath’s designation as a natural area — not a park — means King County will place a high priority on restoring and preserving the former mining site, which is full of Scotch broom and other invasive weeds. Per county regulations, only passive recreation will be allowed, meaning no off-leash dogs, camping, off-road vehicles or dirt bikes. Horseback riding will be allowed.

The last time DNRP officials visited Vashon, they got an earful from dirt bike riders who said they had ridden at the site for years under Glacier’s ownership and were upset county regulations would prohibit them. A group even wrote to the county to request that dirt bikes be allowed, Blumen said.

But when the citizen advisory group formed, none of them stepped forward to join it, she added. Some on the advisory group felt dirt bikes would only further degrade the site, and the county has decided not to allow them, as their use violates currently park rules and wouldn't be consistent with the county's mission to protect the site.

Blumen expects that a friends group will eventually form for the natural area, and the draft plan has been written so that such a group could make additional decisions about the site’s use, such a specifying an area for off-leash dogs.

“We did make a major point in this plan that it has to be seen as adaptive,” Blumen said. “After a few years of management and cleanup, we’ll be open to looking at adding types of passive recreation.”

Dirt bikers aren’t the only group vying for use of the site. The expanse of Maury shoreline is a favorite for scuba divers, who often tie their boats to old pilings there. Under state rules, all the creosote pilings must be removed. Rules also prohibit dropping anchors off the protected shoreline.

But Karlista Rickerson, an avid Vashon diver who is also on the advisory committee, said it would be a shame if she and other divers — more than 900 a year visit from Tacoma alone — no longer had easy access. Rickerson is now pushing for the installation of a buoy or other structure to tie a boat to. She said the county is open to the idea, but the diving community will likely have to work with DOE on getting an exception to the rules.

“Nobody has told me to shut up yet,” she said with a laugh, referring to the other committee members. “They’ve been very supportive of each other.”

The committee has wrestled with some other tough issues as well, such as what to do with the large pieces of mining equipment still at the site. Some think it should be removed, while other think it should stay as a relic of sorts.

“I would prefer to see it recycled as scrap metal,” Gerstle said. “For so many people it hardly seems natural at all.”

Carey, however, said many islanders think the old, rusty apparatus adds to the site.

“Everyone in the group sees different appeals in it, but the overall idea is they are interesting visual aesthetics,” she said.

Blumen said the county would have the mining apparatus, including two tall, metal structures, assessed for liability. The structures may all have to go, she said, or perhaps some parts could stay or be transformed into public art.

“We’ll see if they’re really safe, or if we can save a portion of them for interpretive, onsite art,” she said.

By far one of the hottest topics at committee meetings, which are open to the public, has been the site’s name. Members threw out a plethora of ideas, suggesting names that could pay tribute to Maury Island, the area’s natural history or the site’s historic purchase. The group finally settled tentatively on naming it Maury Island Natural Area and allowing the community to name separate trails or areas of the site, much like it has done with Island Center Forest.

“That happens informally on a lot of our ecological lands or natural areas here on the island,” Carey said. “It’s a nice pathway to recognize a lot of different interests and a lot of different points on the site. You could have Orca Lookout, that sort of thing, bring a little something for everyone into it.”

 

Officials from the King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks will discuss the draft management plan and take questions and comments from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 6, at McMurray Middle School.

 

 

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