Camas OKs 6-year Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan with conditions

Council members want to take a closer look at 20-year capital facilities list

Alexander Chadduck, 21, of Washougal, skates at the Camas-Washougal Riverside Skate Park on Monday, April 9, 2018. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

Children cool off at Crown Park on Aug. 11, 2017. (Post-Record file photo)

The cover page of the Camas Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan that will guide parks and recreation priorities in Camas over the next six years. (Illustration courtesy of the city of Camas)

Kayakers take to Camas' Lacamas Lake on July 26, 2020. (Kelly Moyer/Post-Record files)

Maintain what we have. Fill in the gaps. Improve trail connections. And continue to develop and improve the city’s existing parks. Those were a few of the things Camas Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam said she and city consultants “heard loudly” during their nearly yearlong outreach to the community in preparation for Camas’ updated, 6-year Parks, Recreation and Open Space (PROS) Plan.

The Camas City Council agreed to pass the bulk of the 255-page PROS Plan — the city’s guide for managing and enhancing its parks, trails, open spaces and recreational offerings — during the Council’s regular meeting on Monday, March 7, but said members wanted to take a closer look at a 20-year list outlining $130 million in potential capital facilities projects.

“It’s a hard number to swallow,” Lam told the Council Monday. “This is a 20-plus-year project list that the Parks and Recreation Commission will review every two years. It should not be stagnant … it’s not ‘one and done’ once you’ve approved this list.”

For the city of Camas to maintain its eligibility for grants administered by the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO), it must update its PROS Plan every six years.

Due to staff turnover, including the retirement of former parks and recreation department manager Jerry Acheson in December 2020 and the hiring of Lam, the department’s new director, in 2021, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the city is behind schedule in updating its PROS Plan. To apply for the current round of state parks and recreation grants, the city needed to pass its updated PROS Plan this month or risk waiting another two years for the 2024 grant cycle.

The Camas Parks and Recreation Commission unanimously approved the PROS Plan in its entirety on Feb. 23, and voted to send the plan, including the prioritized, 20-year capital facilities list, to the city council “as is.”

At least one city council member objected on Monday to the fact that the 20-year, $130 million project list included three specific, high-ticket projects — a $10 million feasibility analysis and redevelopment of the Camas Community Center; $43 million for site selection, master planning and implementation of a recreation/aquatic center; and $20 million for site selection, master planning and implementation of a sports complex.

“I’m good with the PROS Plan if we’re clear that it does not include those three projects,” Councilwoman Leslie Lewallen said Monday.

Unlike several other projects on the capital facilities list, the community center, aquatics center and sports complex are not listed as top priorities for the city in the next two to three years or even as “high priority as opportunity arises.” All three, in fact, have an asterisk pointing out that “additional public and policy discussion needed to refine project.”

Conservation Technix, Inc. principal Steve Duh, a certified parks and recreation professional and the city’s lead consultant on the PROS Plan preparation, told city council members on Feb. 22, that the PROS Plan had extensive community outreach that included mailed and online community surveys, an online open house, stakeholder focus groups and tabling at the farmers market and other Camas events.

“We had very strong feedback from the community, with over 1,700 participants,” Duh said. “This is a very strong response even though we’ve had COVID to deal with.”

The community outreach “confirmed that local parks, recreation options and open space opportunities are important or essential to the quality of life in Camas,” the PROS Plan states. “Virtually all respondents (97 percent) feel that local parks and recreation opportunities are important or essential to the quality of life in Camas.”

Likewise, Camas residents are frequent users of their area parks, trails and recreational opportunities, with 92 percent of respondents saying they visit these amenities at least once a month and 70 percent saying they visit at least weekly.

“These numbers are well above what I’m accustomed to seeing as I work with other cities throughout the Northwest,” Duh told council members during their Feb. 22 workshop. “You should feel good about the high usage you’re getting with your parks and recreation.”

The PROS Plan outreach found the majority of respondents supported adding walking and biking trails; renovating playgrounds; adding picnic shelters; installing a splash pad/spray park; providing off-leash dog park; providing a pool or aquatic center; and expanding tennis and pickleball options.

However, when asked to rank a list of potential recreation, park and open space investments, “respondents ranked maintaining existing parks, expanding trail opportunities, building new parks and acquiring land for future parks as top priorities,” according to the PROS Plan. “Respondents ranked building a new community or aquatic center and expanding program offerings as their lowest priorities.”

Younger respondents, as well as those with children in their homes, were more likely to list a new community center or aquatic center as one of their priorities than older respondents with no children at home.

“There were common themes from the public feedback,” Duh said. “Maintenance of existing parks and open spaces remains a key priority. Building new parks on undeveloped, existing, city-owned park land was one of the highest priorities. And there was strong interest in expanding recreational opportunities including the installation of a splash pad, a bike skills/pump track, off-leash dog areas and tennis or pickleball courts and increasing sports field capacity by improving field quality and adding lighting where appropriate.”

List sets ‘top priorities’ for next 2-3 years

The Council on Monday did vote to approve the PROS Plan with a few caveats. Lewallen made a motion to approve the PROS Plan “for the express, limited and sole purpose of allowing timely application for potential 2022 grant funding through the Washington State Conservation and Recreation Office … reserving all rights to add to, remove or otherwise amend the 2022 PROS Plan as appropriate and prudent including but not limited to removing the pool, community center and sport complex … as well as adopt through the public vote of Council all capital facilities elements of the plan, which shall be considered through a public hearing process as required by law and further to provide that approval of the 2022 PROS Plan as presented shall not be construed, interpreted or otherwise used as an approval of or supporting guidance for the stated current costs projections set forth in the 2022 Capital Projects list of the 2022 PROS Plan.”

Camas attorney Shawn MacPherson commented that Lewallen’s motion was “a wordy one” and suggested giving council members time to read the motion before voting on it. In the end, the council voted unanimously in favor of approving the PROS Plan with the understanding that council members could remove or alter aspects of the capital projects list approved by the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission.

20-year capital facilities list includes 12 ‘top priority’ projects

In addition to requiring an updated PROS Plan every six years, the state also asks cities to plan for future capital facilities needs. In January, Camas’ Parks and Recreation Commission prioritized the PROS Plan’s 20-year capital facilities list according to the data — including public comments and survey results — collected during the yearlong PROS Plan process. 

The final capital facilities list presented to the Camas City Council this month included 12 projects Commission members felt should receive “top priority” for the next two to three years:

  • acquisition of link corridors to help connect trails;
  • developing Crown Park according to the master plan;
  • developing an open space management plan as well as an urban forestry management plan;
  • planning for and developing trails and trailheads throughout the city;
  • developing the east segment of the North Shore Trail;
  • closing the loop between the Heritage and North Shore trails;
  • planning access points on the Mill Ditch Trail;
  • making minor repairs and replacements on trails throughout the city;
  • upgrading the picnic shelter and drainage at Forest Home Park;
  • redesigning and constructing a skate park at the city’s existing skate park off Northeast Third Avenue; and
  • developing a trailhead at the Third Avenue Trailhead.

The Commission prioritized the following capital facilities projects as “high priority as opportunities arise”:

  • shared-use trail development on the Mill Ditch Trail;
  • a second phase of developing the skate park;
  • installing a dog park at a selected site — possibly on land the city owns near the skate park;
  • installing an all-inclusive playground at a selected site;
  • making facilities, pathways and other amenities more accessible for people with disabilities throughout the city;
  • assessing existing sports fields and planning for system gaps;
  • modifying a dock at Heritage Park;
  • conducting a site master plan for the city’s new Green Mountain property;
  • making field improvements, including a new fence and infield dirt/grading at the Fallen Leaf softball field;
  • working on the first phase of site master planning for the city’s legacy lands in the North Shore area; and
  • implementing a wayfinding/park signage program throughout the city’s parks and trail systems.

Lam said in February that, before they prioritized the capital facilities list, the Parks and Recreation Commission members spent their winter holiday break reviewing the entire PROS Plan.

“They evaluated what was in the PROS Plan – from what they’d heard from the community and the data analysis (Duh’s) team did plus the evaluation of current conditions — then they prioritized the work we were to do over the next two to three years,” Lam told city council members on Feb. 22, adding that the 20-year list’s estimated $130 million price tag could be “scary” when reviewed alone, the list was meant to be re-evaluated every few years.

“The capital projects list is not intended to be a budgeted list,” Duh told the council in February. “It’s intended to capture what we heard from the public. We’ve sorted it by type, with dollar figures to give you some understanding of which project might need to be elevated in upcoming budget planning.”

Lam added that the city of Camas is growing large enough to have some serious conversations about the types of projects residents would be willing to fund and those they may be willing to forego in Camas — and need to seek out in other nearby cities.

“We are getting to that size where we have to have those conversations about prioritizing (which amenities) we will have in Camas versus those amenities residents may be able to drive to,” Lam said in February.

PROS Plan shows current challenges, changing demographics

After detailing the scope of the Camas Parks and Recreation Department – developing, operating and maintaining 16 parks, 12 miles of trails, three indoor facilities at the Lacamas Lake Lodge, Scout Hall and the Camas Community Center and more than 1,000 acres of parks and open space – the PROS Plan details some of the current challenges the Parks and Recreation Department is facing, including: 

  • The COVID-19 pandemic: “Health mandates related to the pandemic had dramatic impacts on the City’s recreation programming and operations, requiring the temporary closure of some facilities, capacity and use restrictions, and the cancellation of recreation programming.” the plan states. “However, with improvements in local caseloads, Camas has now begun to offer in-person recreation programs and community events. 
  • Being more equitable, inclusive and accessible: “Through this PROS Plan, the city of Camas made a concerted effort to reach out to and engage its historically underrepresented communities, and the City also invested in a dual language community survey to include Spanish. Also, portions of the City’s parks, trails and open space system were developed before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was implemented. The conditions assessment identified several deficiencies related to ADA compliance,” the plan states. “The City must continue to find ways to provide safe and equitable access to parks, trails, open space areas, facilities, recreation programs and other services.”
  • A growing, changing city: “Over the past ten years, Camas has seen rapid population growth, which is expected to continue over the coming decade. More residents and new development will increase the need for recreational spaces and experiences across the city and increase the use of existing parks and facilities,” the plan states. “In response, the City should consider ways to improve recreation facilities and parks to adapt to emerging needs, complete (critical) connections in the City’s extensive trail network, and proactively (acquire) or preserve parks and open spaces in strategic areas.”
  • Maintaining what it already has: “This Plan includes condition assessments of the City’s parks and facilities to provide a baseline of current conditions that then informs facility, maintenance, and operations policies and improvements,” the plan states. “Proper maintenance of park and recreation assets will prevent them from deteriorating thereby reducing long-term capital and operating costs, maintaining safety, improving public perception and increasing community use.” 
  • Meeting the needs of the city’s active, older residents: “Camas’ relatively older population, low rates of disability among residents over 65, and high rates of participation among residents of all ages, indicate a potential local need for active recreation opportunities for active older adults,” the plan states. “To meet the needs of active older residents, the City will need to consider how the City’s park and recreation facilities and programming can meet the needs of this growing group.”

 

Plan outlines need for more parks & rec staff to keep up with city’s network of parks, trails and open spaces

The plan’s implementation chapter details other challenges, including financial and staffing constraints. 

“Despite flat staffing levels since 2010, developed parks have been well maintained; however, park amenities are aging out of their life cycle and levels of service for maintenance of open space have not kept up with acquisition,” the plan states. 

Though the city has financial mechanisms for funding its parks, recreation and open spaces – including the general fund, park impact fees meant to help new development pay for new parks and recreation needs, real estate excise taxes, grants, donations and special revenue funds, the plan states the city of Camas will likely need to find a dedicated funding source to fully maintain and upgrade its parks and recreation system as the city continues to grow. 

“Dedicated, new funding will be required to finance maintenance and operations, upgrades to, and growth in the parks system to meet community needs,” the plan states. 

The plan notes that the city of Camas has doubled its population since 2000 and is expected to grow to nearly 35,000 residents by 2035, and states that future parks and recreation needs may require the community’s buy-in for greater financial investments. 

“The Camas community is reaching a size that will result in greater public demand for major facilities investments such as a recreation center with aquatics programs and a sports field complex, which will require additional public and policy conversations. Bond or levy will be needed to augment existing revenue to support major investments such as parkland acquisitions and development, trail development, recreational facilities, waterfront opportunities and general park element upgrades” the plan states. “Such mechanisms would require both political and public support. State and federal grant programs offer additional potential opportunities to leverage available local revenues to fund specific projects.”

Likewise, investments will be needed to increase staffing levels to help maintain the city’s existing parks and recreation facilities. 

“In the last decade alone the City has added over 316 acres of open space and over 146 acres for future parks. The 10 years of successful acquisitions increased the 2010 park system size by over 75 percent,” the plan states. “While the park system in Camas increased by over 462 acres, the park maintenance staffing remained at the same equivalent employee level. There is some degree of maintenance outsourcing that accomplishes tree pruning or removal and invasive weed control.”

Though the city has increased its parks staffing budget – increasing from $842,449 in 2010 to $1,246,009 in 2020 – the department’s staffing levels have remained the same, with 7.3 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees. The budget increases did not pay for more staff, instead going toward “normal inflation, additional playground repair/maintenance and cost of living adjustments.” 

“Clearly, the operational resources have not kept up with the increase in the park system,” the plan states. “ As the City continues to work to fill in the gaps in its open space network and to further develop its comprehensive trail system, park operations will need to be expanded to meet the need for more active stewardship and care.”

Council OKs grant application for Crown Park splash pad

On Monday, the council members made few comments about the in-depth PROS Plan and instead focused on the three high-ticket items listed in the plan’s final chapter in the capital facilities list as well as three grant opportunities Lam would like to pursue in 2022: recouping up to $1 million for the city’s recent Green Mountain open space purchase; adding a bathroom and updating the gravel lot at the Lacamas Creek trailhead off Northeast Third Avenue; and obtaining funding for a Crown Park splash pad.

“We have a good chance of getting funding for a water feature,” Lam said. “It would be the first water feature in East Clark County, so we have a good chance of getting funding for this.”

Some council members have recently voiced support for re-engaging the community on the possibility of building a new public swimming pool at Crown Park to replace the historic pool the city shut down and covered over in 2019 due to its high maintenance costs. Installing a new pool would knock down the splash pad water feature concept currently in the master plan for Crown Park.

“I’m hearing these conversations … and if there is even an inkling that there might be an open public pool here, then we need to have that conversation and put a pause on doing the 30 percent design (for the Crown Park master plan),” Lam told city council members Monday. “It would also halt me from doing the grant application.”

If the state granted Camas money for a water feature and then city leaders decided they wanted to switch gears and install a pool instead, the city would have to turn down the grant or, worse, return the state’s money, “which doesn’t look good for us as a city,” Lam said.

Most council members supported moving forward with the three grant applications — including the proposal for a splash pad at Crown Park.

“I would be in favor of the three projects you’ve listed as potential grants moving forward as is,” said Councilwoman Bonnie Carter.

Councilman Tim Hein said he would like to have a “good, healthy discussion” regarding a future pool.

“We’re caught between a rock and a hard place,” Councilwoman Leslie Lewallen said. “My inclination is to say move forward to try to get grant money because there were promises made that there would be a water feature at Crown Park. … I hope we move forward with the proper process of a pool discussion.”

“I don’t remember a promise made,” Councilman Don Chaney said. “I’m not opposing (the splash pad) but I’m just questioning how much effort we put into the questions around that.”

Lam said that, ideally, a city the size of Camas should have both a water feature like a splash pad and a swimming pool.

“Crown Park is a gem for this community, and when I think about parks and amenities, I also think about capacity. I know Crown Park had a pool when our community was much smaller. Capacity for a community pool may not be able to fit into Crown Park (now),” Lam said, adding that the city should consider where a pool might have “the best impact” for the whole community.”

To view the PROS Plan, visit tinyurl.com/442rw6mc.