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Friday, December 1, 2023
Dec. 1, 2023

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Skamania halts all recreational development, following community opposition to adventure park


Skamania County has enacted a moratorium on recreational facilities development in response to concerns about a project that endeavors to bring an adventure park to the county’s West End.

County Commissioners Richard Mahar, Tom Lannen and Asa Leckie voted unanimously for the moratorium Oct. 24, after several West End residents asked the county to review and modify its definitions of “recreational facilities” and “recreational activities” in its zoning code.

West End resident George Perry told The Post-Record his advocacy group considers the moratorium a win. “The county’s planning and community development departments now have the opportunity to make sure the language is tight so it’s not misinterpreted,” he said.

Property developer Derek Hoyte has launched an effort to construct an adventure park featuring a “mountain coaster,” zip line course, net park and event venue on 150 acres located at 4101 Canyon Creek Road.

In August, Marty Snell — a planning services manager for Mackay Sposito, a Vancouver-based consulting firm that Hoyte hired to oversee the project — invited West End residents living within 500 feet of Hoyte’s property to an “informational meeting” that was to be held Aug. 15. The meeting was canceled and not rescheduled.

“The property owner … has put together a local team of planners and architects to help implement a vision to create a recreational park inspired by the beauty, landscape and uniqueness that the upper Washougal River valley offers,” the invitation stated.“The proposed park activities would be designed to provide captivating experiences for visitors to take in as actively or as passively as they wish. Placement of activities and structures will be integrated with the existing forest to provide a nature-focused experience. … (The park will) be ever-mindful of respecting the surrounding area.”

West End residents aren’t buying those claims. They say the park would present a litany of problems in the categories of traffic, quality of life, environment, wildlife, economics and emergency services.

Skamania County currently defines “outdoor recreational facility” as a facility provided for outdoor recreation encompassing a varying range of activities pursued for purposes such as “physical exercise, general wellbeing, spiritual renewal and education.”

Such activities include camping, hiking, skiing, fishing, hunting, shooting, backpacking, picnicking, wildlife and botanical viewing, horseback riding, swimming, rock climbing, cycling, windsurfing, rafting, sailing, and outdoor team sports such as soccer, baseball, tennis and basketball.

Neighbors push back

The park has generated strong pushback on social media, with a Facebook group titled “Preserve the Washougal River Rd area — STOP the amusement park” drawing more than 1,000 members as of earlier this month.

But Camas residents Rich Rogers and Roman Battan are attempting to move the discourse offline and bring the varying sub-groups together in order to present a more united front.

“It’s great to have all these separate voices, but there’s more power with one group,” Rogers said. “Right now, who’s (Hoyte) going to talk to? He has that great excuse. He could tell Skamania County, ‘I tried talking to the neighbors, but there’s 19 groups. I’m not going to 19 meetings.’ I’m trying to tell all these folks, ‘Let’s get together — one face, one hand out — and organize and keep asking questions.’”

Rogers and Battan collected donations from residents to print yard signs reading “Adventure park not welcome,” which they gave to people Oct. 23 at the Camas skatepark parking lot.

“I got on one of the (social media) groups, and I said, ‘Let’s do something tangible and get something out there so that when the construction workers and the project managers drive up to the site, they see that there’s a pretty big wall of opposition on their way.’ The goal is to get these (signs) on Washougal River Road so that that happens,” Battan said. “We have groups that are complaining on Facebook and social media, but you have to do something real. This at least gives people a chance to voice their opinion. Who knows what’s going to happen with the decision, but at least we can let people know we’re opposed to (the project).”

West End residents have also expressed concerns about Hoyte’s history with similar projects.

The developer was briefly jailed in 2009 after Skamania County officials discovered he was operating six zip lines without permits on 83 acres of land he owned in the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, according to a 2010 report by The Columbian.

In 2010, the U.S. Attorney’s Office sued Hoyte in federal court in Tacoma, claiming the U.S. Forest Service confirmed reports that Hoyte had reinstalled zip lines on the property and was constructing a suspension bridge without permission, according to a 2010 report by The Oregonian.

In March 2022, four Haiku, Hawaii, residents sued NorthShore Zipline Co., also owned by Hoyte, alleging that he “knowingly and intentionally disregard(ed) their concerns about noise, invasion of privacy and emotional distress,” according to a report by mauinews.com.

Snell told the Post-Record on Oct. 30 “that as of early October, (Mackay Sposito) no longer work(s) for Mr. Hoyte on this project.” Hoyte didn’t respond to an email from the Post-Record before this edition’s deadline.

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