Worries about Skamania Co. ‘adventure park’ persist

Opponents of possible recreational facility urge county to fix zoning code

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A group of West End residents in Skamania County say they fear the county’s moratorium on recreational applications will not be enough to halt a 150-acre adventure park from being constructed near their rural homes. 

The Skamania County Board of Commissioners adopted the recreational facilities moratorium in October 2023, following outcry from the West End community over Washougal resident Derek Hoyte’s efforts to construct an adventure park featuring a “mountain coaster,” zip line course, net park and event venue, on a 150-acre plot of land at 4101 Canyon Creek Road, Washougal, which Hoyte purchased in 2022. 

Two weeks after Skamania County’s moratorium decision, Hoyte told The Post-Record the neighbors’ feedback had made him reconsider his adventure park plans. 

Those opposing Hoyte’s development plans, however, say the project is still a threat to their community and are urging Skamania County to align its recreational facilities zoning code with the West End Community Comprehensive Subarea Plan.

“I think a lot of people thought that because of the moratorium, and (the fact that) nothing has happened, that (the project) had just gone away,” said Keith Brown, the treasurer for the Preserving Washougal and West End Rural Character (PWWERC) nonprofit that formed to oppose the adventure park.

Brown said he and other West End residents were not reassured by Hoyte’s assurance that he was re-thinking his development plans. 

“It doesn’t make any difference,” Brown said of Hoyte’s assurances. “You watch what people do, not what they say. His track record is very clear. If he can put that in over there, he will.”

Hoyte has run into land-use troubles before and was briefly jailed in 2009, after Skamania County officials discovered he was operating six ziplines 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, The Post-Record’s sister publication.

In 2010, the U.S. Attorney’s Office sued Hoyte in federal court in Tacoma, Washington, claiming the U.S. Forest Service confirmed reports that Hoyte had reinstalled ziplines 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 Hoyte’s NorthShore Zipline Company, alleging he “knowingly and intentionally disregard(ed) their concerns about noise, invasion of privacy and emotional distress,” according to a report by

But when it comes to his property in Skamania County’s West End, Hoyte has said he is “still in the early stages” of deciding what he wants to do with the land. 

““In other words, my plans for the property are still in ‘draft mode,’ and no buildings of any kind have been built on the property as of yet,” Hoyte told The Post-Record in November 2023. “Additionally, I have no specific timetable in mind on when I might choose to make an application for a building or a land use permit on the subject property.”

The PWWERC group has reached out to Skamania County Community Development Director David Waymire to review the county’s definitions of “recreational facilities” and “recreational activities” in its zoning code

Last week, on Tuesday, March 5, Waymire proposed a new definition for recreational facilities that would include new large-scale recreational facility land-use terms and definitions; new supplementary development land-use standards for recreational facilities; and amendments to implement the new land-use terms.

“We’re hoping that this makes sense as a good path to move forward. We think it is,” Waymire said during the Skamania County Planning Commission’s March 5 meeting. “I feel like with everything that was done in 2021, there was nothing that was meant to go against any sub-area plan or to violate anything by any stretch. They had numerous public meetings, and I feel like they did everything they should have done. But one thing that they didn’t consider is what we were faced with that started this process rolling, some of the larger-scale options that would be out there that people might want to try to do. That’s what we’re trying to mitigate here.”

Currently, Skamania County defines an outdoor recreation 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 – including camping, hiking, skiing, fishing, hunting, shooting, backpacking, picnicking, wildlife, botanical viewing, horseback riding, swimming, rock climbing, cycling, windsurfing, rafting, sailing and outdoor team sports such as soccer, baseball, tennis and basketball.

Waymire’s proposal adds that “this designation shall not include any large-scale applications that are generally, but not limited to, applications that may have a significant traffic impact; potentially increased noise levels, sustained or not, that would likely be impactful to the regular use of the area; or projects that cover a geographic footprint of more than five acres of land or attempts to connect parcels with recreational.”

Waymire’s proposal also creates a separate definition for large-scale recreational facilities, stating: “A facility for more extreme outdoor activities that is not considered in the outdoor recreational facility definition. Examples include but are not limited to ziplines, aerial canopies, aerial nets, bungee jumping, mountain coasters, challenge courses, motorsport tracks and other such activities. These include commercial or public facilities. These types of facilities will be permitted in areas with large buffers from residential areas, detailed traffic plans and any noise mitigation plans that may be required to ensure the least amount of impact on the regular use of the area.”

The West End residents who oppose Hoyte’s adventure park project formed PWWERC to educate and advocate for the preservation of the Washougal watershed and to raise funds for legal and outreach costs. 

The group’s latest public meeting, held at Canyon Creek Middle School March 3, attracted about 80 people, including two Skamania County commissioners.

“We continue to do outreach and public education because one of the things that we found that helps is making sure everybody understands what’s really going on, because if they don’t, it creates more noise and chaos for everybody involved, whether it be the county, us, or random political people getting sucked into the conversation,” the nonprofit group’s director, George Perry, said. “It’s very important to continue to educate everybody about what’s really going on so that they’re not out there putting incorrect statements out into the public sphere that would distract from the core issues.”

The group’s board members say they are not necessarily trying to stop the adventure park project altogether, but want to make sure it fully complies with the West End Comprehensive Community Sub-Area Plan created by more than 250 West End residents from 2001 to 2004 and adopted by Skamania County in 2007, which states that “West Skamania County will continue to be a predominantly rural environment with large open tracts of field and forest lands, with residential and limited small scale commercial development.”

George Perry said Skamania County adopted zoning changes in 2021 that conflicted with the West End plan.

“Ordinance 21-04 added a lot of conditional uses under zoning areas that specifically affect residents,” Sarah Perry, the nonprofit group’s secretary, explained. “Before those ordinances were passed, outdoor recreational facilities were not allowed at all in the zoning areas, and now they’re conditionally allowed. This created a loophole for that adventure park proposal. Rescinding 21-04 would essentially put it back the way it was and remove the conditional uses from those zoning areas.”

The nonprofit group believes Waymire’s proposal can meet the needs of the West End community — with one tweak.

“It needs one change,” Brown said, explaining that the proposal does not prevent someone from putting a large-scale recreational facility next to a residential area. 

“If the planning commission would just add language (stating that large-scale recreational facilities) cannot be adjacent to any residential area, that would take care of it,” Brown said. “That’s the key thing that we’re asking them to add.”

Waymire will present a revised version of his definition to the Skamania County Planning Commission on Tuesday, March 19. 

“We need to determine what may need to be adjusted in the land use matrix as well,” Waymire told The Post-Record. “Once we have a fine-tuned proposal, we will hold a public hearing with the planning commission. Once they approve of it, we will do the same thing with the Board of County Commissioners. If they also approve of it, then the moratorium would be lifted and the proposed changes would go into effect. I can’t say how long this process may take since it will take the support of the two boards.”

Other Skamania Co. residents say moratorium ‘taking away property rights’

The Skamania County Board of Commissioners adopted Resolution 2023-37, which placed a moratorium on all recreational applications within Skamania County, in October 2023, after several West End residents asked the County to review and modify its definitions of “recreational facilities” and “recreational activities” in its zoning code.

“It was the only way to give the planning commission and the county commission the time to make the necessary revisions,” Brown said. “There just was not any other way to do that.”

But not all Skamania County residents approved of the moratorium. Skamania County resident Mitch Patton stated in an email to Skamania County commissioners that “the presence of such a large amount of undeveloped land surrounding the property triggering the county-wide moratorium suggests that we may have been led down a dark and misleading road when it comes to maintaining a neighborhood community.”

Patton later told The Post-Record he believed the county’s moratorium negatively imposes on property rights.

“The biggest frustration that I have is that the 2007 comprehensive plan is up for review in 2025. That’s less than nine months away. (They shouldn’t) rewrite the whole comp plan because of 60 people,” Patton said. “That isn’t how government works, and that isn’t how planning departments work. You have less than one percent of the community protesting, and you’re going to rewrite the whole comp plan? It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Patton said he believes county officials should allow Hoyte to move forward with his project.

“The state wants to bring recreation to rural lands, and that’s the one thing that a lot of people in Skamania County don’t understand,” Patton said. “We are zoned as rural lands, so therefore recreation is part of it.”

“We can have a community as a group of people in rural lands and respect one another’s property rights,” Patton said. “Your property rights mean nothing to (the West End neighbors who oppose the adventure park plans). The only thing that means anything to them is where their little piece of harmony is along that river, and nobody else is ever going to sell a piece of property or rezone anything they have because ‘We’re here, and we’re not going to allow it, and we know how to stop it.’”

Patton said he owns about 200 acres of undeveloped property in Skamania County that he would eventually like to develop.

“Twenty years ago, you couldn’t bring commercial (businesses) out here. There was nobody here,” Patton said. “But now people are here, and we need doctors’ offices, optical places, urgent care for kids, maybe a play gym, maybe a little pizza bar. I have 200 acres here, and I’m going to push hard to rezone them into commercial, industrial, multifamily housing and affordable housing. My block of land is close to Highway 14, it’s close to the school, it (can support) housing — the whole thing is here.”

Staci Patton, Mitch’s wife, said that the protestors missed their opportunity to speak against the zoning changes when the revisions were proposed three years ago. 

“It is very clear by reading the meeting minutes of 2021, that the planning commission had given plenty of opportunity for the public to see there was a meeting being held regarding this subject. To imply otherwise is ignorant,” Staci Patton said during the Skamania County Planning Commission’s March 5 meeting. “To act out now because (the West End neighbors) were not actively participating in following agendas and meetings is childish. They’re playing the ‘blame game’ after the fact.”

Staci Patton added that “giving only select groups ‘do-overs’ because they missed out on participating in the process sets the County up to have the obligation to allow this for anyone who ‘plays the game.’ Otherwise, it gives the appearance that one group of people has more standing with the Skamania County government than other citizens and taxpayers.”

PWWERC members said they hope the moratorium can end as soon as possible and that they recognize it “has created some hardships” for some Skamania County residents, Brown said.

“Yes, it’s unfortunate that the moratorium may impact some people in that way, but it’s temporary, and it’s a finite amount of time that is ultimately going to be for the greater good,” Sarah Perry said. “That’s why we’re engaged with the planning commission and the community development department — because we want this to be speedy and resolved as much as anybody else does. We want to make sure people understand that we’re certainly not against developers, and we’re not against development. What we do want is development that’s appropriate for the area, appropriate for the residential community (and) that doesn’t cause adverse impacts to the neighbors around the development.”