Ask any newcomer to Camas what attracted them to the city, and there’s a good chance the city’s abundant parks and open spaces will be on that list.
But the popularity of Camas’ parks sometimes comes with headaches for users as well as city staff. The city’s 5.5-acre Heritage Park, which offers boat launch access to the adjacent Lacamas Lake, has caused more than a few headaches this summer.
Camas Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam said the decade-old park has seen more use over the past couple of years than city officials ever expected.
During the summer months, the park is typically over capacity Friday through Sunday, Lam said, and is often at capacity during the other four days of the week.
“No one expected this level of use,” Lam said. “The pandemic created even more use in the park. And when you get more use, there’s going to be more conflict.”
Lam said the majority of park users are not causing problems.
“About 95 percent of the people are really nice,” she said. “But every single weekend we have a handful of people who are mean to our parking lot attendants … or just not being courteous with other people.”
Some of the interactions have become so heated that Camas police now regularly drive by the park to make sure everything is OK, Lam said.
“I want to put it out there that people aren’t nice anymore,” Lam told the Parks and Recreation Commission in August. “And it has gotten more stressful for (staff) over the last couple years.”
City staff have noticed Heritage Park users double-parking in spaces, preventing strangers from being able to leave when they return to their vehicle.
The parking situation at Heritage Park recently prompted the Camas City Council to approve new city code language allowing repercussions for park users who place more than one vehicle — or two motorcycles — in one parking space.
Some Heritage Park users also park in a nearby city parking lot meant for the city’s Lacamas Lake Lodge.
“We have also been seeing impacts on the lodge parking lot,” Lam said. “We have signs up, but people drive by and ignore them.”
On the positive side, the on-street parking near Heritage Park, which caused the city’s police department to get involved and begin issuing fines for illegally parked vehicles during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, seems to be getting better.
“The on-street parking has not been an issue,” Lam said. “A few people have parked on the grass across the street, but we’ve managed that. We don’t want people parking on the other side (of the road) for safety reasons — they’re crossing a street where people are going 40 mph and at that curve, where you can’t see.”
A search for answers
Lam said she and members of the Parks and Recreation Commission have discussed possible remedies to the Heritage Park parking woes, including the possibility of reconfiguring the lot to fit more vehicles, installing a gate that staff could close when the lot is full and — like other jurisdictions in Clark County — charging a nominal fee to park at the popular site.
“Charging fees is not about making money,” Lam told the commission. “It’s about managing capacity and safety.”
Lam said she intends to bring more information to the Parks and Recreation Commission in the winter of 2024, and to the Camas City Council next spring. The parks director said that ideally, the city will have something approved and in place to help calm the Heritage Park parking situation by next summer.