Not quite noon on a recent spring Tuesday, and the main parking lot at Battle Ground Lake State Park was filling up.
A woman and child gallivanted in the sunshine with their dog, while fishermen put up poles in hopes of snagging a rainbow trout — the fish that the lake is stocked with annually. A Department of Fish & Wildlife employee was checking the scene, making sure folks were abiding by the two-pole rule.
Meanwhile, Battle Ground Area Manager Heath Yeats, 43, stopped by to have a look at the shoreline where there would soon be a new boat launch and a fishing pier that would be in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. He’s overseeing the planning.
“This has been planned for probably five-plus years. It will be done by the end of the month,” Yeats said. “We’re in a time crunch. It will still get done, but we’ve got three weeks.”
The pier will be T-shaped, Yeats said, drawing a representation on a piece of paper.
Battle Ground Lake State Park
18002 N.E. 249th St., Battle Ground
Employees: 25 in the summer and seven in the winter for Battle Ground Lake, Paradise Point, Beacon Rock and Reed Island state parks.
Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Outlook: The bureau doesn’t track information specific to parks rangers, but because rangers’ jobs are partially about law enforcement, they are recognized as police and detectives or conservation officers, fields expected to grow by 7 percent through 2026. “The continued need for public safety is expected to lead to new openings for officers, although demand may vary by location,” the bureau reports. The annual mean wage of fish and game wardens in Washington as of May 2018 was $35.58 an hour or $74,010 a year. See Washington State Parks budget online.
“Folks with limited abilities will be able to go out there and fish,” he said. “It’s a brand-new feature for this park. The boat launch was just in huge need of repairs. So that’s going to be huge.”
The 275-acre park is seeing more use as the area has grown in population, and so has more needs. According to numbers provided by Yeats, the lake saw a total of 276,022 people (including day use and camping) in 2016. And in 2018, there were 305,481 visitors.
Carl Bowles was visiting the site in hopes of catching a few fish, having tried other areas in the Gorge earlier in the day.
“This used to be a best-kept secret,” Bowles said of Battle Ground Lake.
“It was,” Yeats agreed. “As the area has grown and the town of Battle Ground has grown, the use has definitely increased.”
Yeats, originally from the Puget Sound area, oversees state parks in Clark County, including Paradise Point, Beacon Rock State Park and Reed Island. He has worked with the state Parks and Recreation Commission for 18 years, including working at Cape Disappointment, Lake Sammamish and Kopachuck state parks. He has been in his current role for three years. Yeats spends much time now at the much-larger 5,100-acre Beacon Rock, where until six months ago he lived on site. Yeats now has a 45-minute commute from Hood River County, Ore.
WORKING IN CLARK COUNTY
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“I split my time between Battle Ground and Beacon Rock. I have offices at both parks. I’m dealing with the communities and working on projects like this to ensure they’re going forward and dealing with the budget,” he said of his role. He said the new projects at Battle Ground Lake cost approximately $250,000.
The next evening at a public meeting, Yeats and colleagues unveiled three proposals to improve parking and traffic near Beacon Rock State Park. The parking area is small and easily becomes congested near the highway. Following closures of many other trails in the Columbia River Gorge in 2017 after the Eagle Creek Fire, Beacon Rock saw a 30 percent increase in use each month. It put a strain on staff, which has been in a shortage. Currently, Yeats is part of a team of 25 in the summer and seven in the winter for the four parks.
“Agencywide we’re short a few rangers but we’re making great progress to fill those positions. Being that we’re commissioned law enforcement officers it takes a while to fill,” Yeats said. “I don’t have to worry about one park feeling neglected or overlooked because of our strong work unit and willingness to assist each other.”
Partners in upkeep
Yeats also works with various groups to help ensure the parks he oversees aren’t left to languish. The state’s parks endured a tough time in 2011 when the Legislature drastically cut funding, causing parks to become self-sufficient, Yeats said. The implementation of the Discover Pass, a permit that park users are required to carry, was created to bring in revenue.
“Right now, we’re relatively stable. But everybody, including the Legislature, understands that the self-sufficient model for parks is not really feasible,” Yeats said. Yeats works closely with groups such as the Washington Trail Riders Association, which aids the park with trail work and other projects.
As parks continue into the thick of summer, Yeats must be out in the field more often, including on weekends — the time of highest use. As a ranger, Yeats has dealt with issues of all types, including everything from wildlife to domestic violence.
“I’ve seen it all,” he said. While Battle Ground Lake enjoys these upcoming improvements, Yeats is still hopeful that the campground, which is currently one loop, will eventually see full utilities.
While he’s bounced around from park to park in Washington over the years, he doesn’t see himself leaving this area anytime soon.
“I grew up camping and being outdoors and hiking. (Working in parks is) something I’ve wanted to do as a child. I don’t foresee myself leaving Washington State Parks,” he said. “I really enjoy the work.”