Mike Duzan and Lindsey Brown have been living in their home on Washougal River Road since 2021. They love so many things about it — the seclusion, the stillness, the peace, the quiet, the proximity to the Washougal River, the abundance of wildlife and the support of the “up-river community,” to name a few things.
They feel that all of those things and more are being threatened by a proposed development.
The Washougal couple is part of a group of residents who have organized an effort to stop an adventure park from being built in rural east Clark County.
“We have kids. We protect our kids and feel safe with them here,” Brown said, looking out to the Washougal River from her backyard deck one gray afternoon earlier this month. “To imagine strangers glaring into our backyard, people venturing down to the water (next to our house) … our peace of mind would just be completely damaged. Our privacy (would be lost). Those are big things. I mean, (the development) is so close (to us).”
The residents say the park, proposed to be constructed on a 150-acre plot of land at 4101 Canyon Creek Road and feature a “mountain coaster,” zip line course, net park and event venue, would present the area with a litany of problems including traffic, quality of life, environment, wildlife, economics and emergency services.
“I think that the community is very, very concerned,” said Washougal native and Trout Lake resident Amy McNealy, whose mother, Jo Hoffman, owns property near the proposed park. “We don’t want this to be a ‘not in our backyard’ situation. This is not something that we’ve waffled back and forth (about).
“We respect property owners and their rights and abilities to do what they want with their property, but zoning and code and all of those compliance (factors) in our government are put in place to protect those property owners as well, and this is that situation. We really feel like there’s a strong, unified front that we do not want the project, this is not the right place for it, the infrastructure is not there to support it.”
Hoffman and McNealy started a Facebook page called “Preserve the Washougal River (Road) area — STOP the amusement park” to provide updates about the project.
“My first thoughts were, ‘I really don’t want that there,’” said Hoffman, who lives on Hoffman Road near Salmon Falls. “Once he’s in there, he’s in there. He’s not going anywhere.”
The Facebook page had attracted 798 followers as of Aug. 31, according to McNealy.
In July, the property’s owner, Derek Hoyte, invited residents who live within 500 feet of the proposed project area to a meeting, originally scheduled for Aug. 15, at Laurel Lane Event and Retreat Center in Washougal.
That meeting never happened.
“They canceled it because word got out,” Hoffman said. “Everybody heard about it and signed up. (Hoyte) expected a smaller group of people within 500 feet to come. He didn’t expect hundreds of people to RSVP. Then they sent a little ditty out that said that they were going to maybe find a larger venue, or most likely do it digitally.”
But Hoyte hasn’t communicated with the residents since then, McNealy said.
Marty Snell, with Mackay Sposito, the Vancouver-based consulting firm Hoyte hired to oversee the project, did not respond to The Post-Record’s requests for comment.
In response to neighbors’ questions, Skamania County posted on its website that “there is currently no active application on file” for the project, and “therefore Community Development is not accepting public comment at this time. … There is no further information appropriate to share at this time as no application has been received.”
Zip line issues
The neighbors, however, say they worry about the property owner’s history with similar projects.
Hoyte 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 The Oregonian.
In March 2022, four Haiku, Hawaii, residents sued NorthShore Zipline Co., also owned by Hoyte, alleging he “knowingly and intentionally disregard(ed) their concerns about noise, invasion of privacy and emotional distress,” according to a report by mauinews.com.
“That does not breed a lot of confidence that Mr. Hoyte intends to follow code and zoning compliance on this project,” McNealy said. “I want to be cognizant of not making any accusations, but the fact of the matter is he has proven that he does not respect nor comply with zoning or code concerns.”
McNealy added that the lack of communication between Hoyte and the concerned neighbors also is distressing.
McNealy said neighbors are making signs and “continuing to raise awareness for the project so that if a conditional use permit is filed and submitted, (they’ll be) ready to show up at the public comment periods and make sure that there is no question about how the community feels about the project.”