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Oct. 1, 2022

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Washington’s newest state park is taking shape, and it’s in Pierce County

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A new state park that would incorporate the Nisqually River confluences with the Mashel River and Ohop Creek was just a dream in 1987 when state planners first proposed it.

Now, 35 years later, Nisqually State Park is taking shape as the first state park with a campground co-managed with a tribal government.

Washington State Parks wants to include the public on how facilities and trails should look at the state’s newest park.

A meeting in Eatonville April 28 will present plans for the park’s village center and its trail system.

The village will be the heart of the park and have a Coast Salish meeting hall, amphitheater, interpretive trail, play area and outdoor cooking area for Nisqually Tribe events, according to Brian Yearout, a State Parks project manager.

“Basically, a place to tell the story of the land and the Nisqually people,” he said.

The village center would be built near the existing day use parking lot.

Some users have created their own trail systems in the park. The proposed developed trail system is just over 13 miles, Yearout said.

Taking shape

The Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission first took the lead on the new park and began acquiring land in the early 1990s.

After numerous parcel purchases, the park now stands at 1,300 acres. The entrance is about three miles west of Eatonville on state Route 7.

In 2010, master and land-use plans were adopted. Since then, only basic development has taken place — a day use parking lot, information kiosk and vault toilet.

Coming development will include a 60-spot campground, staff residence, maintenance building, interpretive plaza and Nisqually River access. Construction on those projects could begin in 2023, Yearout said.

Nisqually Tribe

When the park’s master plan was first being formed, the Nisqually Indian Tribe asked to be involved.

“Now we are working collaboratively on the full build out of the park,” Yearout said. A new welcome sign, which incorporates Indigenous designs, is one of the most obvious examples of the partnership.

A memorandum of understanding was signed between the two parties in October 2020, the Nisqually Tribe said. They are now working on writing a mutual operating agreement, Yearout said.

It’s not the first co-management agreement between a Washington tribe and the Parks Department. That occurred with the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community for the Kukutali Preserve, co-owned and co-managed by both.

The preserve has limited recreational opportunities and no campground.

The Parks Department says the Nisqually partnership has a “… scale and extent of which would be unprecedented in State Parks’ history.”

Nisqually State Park, the Parks Deparment says, is rich in history and ecological resources.

“It is a prime destination in the Nisqually River Watershed to convey cultural and environmental stories and experiences,” State Parks said.

Surrounding area

The park’s 1,300 acres are surrounded by large tracts of public and tribal lands.

To the northwest is 549 acres owned by the Nisqually Land Trust which encompasses Ohop Creek. To the east and bordered by the Mashel River is the 4,300-acre UW Pack Experimental Forest. To the south and bordering the Nisqually River is tribal land.

The park’s master plan has the Pack Forest eventually becoming part of the park. Yearout estimates that will occur in about 10 years. Trails would then be extended into the Park Forest.

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