Changes ahead for crowded Heritage Park parking lot

City will re-stripe lot, add 19 vehicle stalls this summer; could implement parking fees in ‘25

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category icon Camas, Government, Latest News, Life, Outdoors
Vehicles park at Heritage Park in Camas, Sept. 14, 2023. The park, which offers access to Lacamas Lake, is set for a parking lot makeover in the summer of 2024, to help manage overcrowding.

Heritage Park is one of Camas’ most popular summertime recreation spots, but overcrowding and double-parking in the park’s public parking lot has caused several headaches for recreationists as well as city of Camas staff over the past few years.

“We’ve had a lot of growth in our community,,” Camas Parks and Recreation Director Trang Lam said, noting that this growth has had an impact on the city’s parks, especially at the Lacamas Lake-adjacent Heritage Park, where summertime visitors who come equipped with boats, paddleboards and kayaks often find themselves vying for limited parking and dock space.

“We’ve had some safety issues — user conflicts at the dock, double-parking and just overcrowding in general,” Lam told the Camas Parks and Recreation Commission in March. “It also impacts our (Lacamas Lake) Lodge rentals, as people will park in the lodge parking lot and our parking lot attendants have to run across the field and chase people out of there.”

In 2023, Lam told Commission members that the parking lot issue at Heritage Park had ramped up during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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.”

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.

She added that the majority of park users are not causing problems.

“About 95 percent of the people are really nice,” Lam told the Commission in September 2023. “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.”

Lam said this week that her parking lot attendants — typically college-age students — have had people yell at them and even throw cans at them.

“When it gets hot out and people can’t find parking, people can be pretty rude,” Lam told The Post-Record this week. “We do have a great partnership with the Camas Police Department and the police will come through in the middle of the day to check on (the parking lot attendants).”

This year, Lam said, might be a bit easier on visitors as well as city parking lot staff.

That’s because Heritage Park is set to get a parking lot makeover this summer — with more plans in store in 2025 to help further alleviate overcrowding at the popular park.

“For me, it’s really about reminding folks that the park was built 10 years ago and we’ve grown (as a City) quite a bit in the last 10 years, so that’s why it’s congested and why people are upset.”

Lam said some of the City’s future plans for its North Shore area on the north side of Lacamas Lake also should help alleviate congestion at Heritage Park in the future, when people will have more options for recreating on the lake.

“As we get into our Legacy Lands master planning, we will look at how we utilize the entire lake,” Lam said.

Until then, however, the parking issue at Heritage Park remains a problem Lam hopes to fix over the next couple years.

This summer, Heritage Park’s parking lot will receive a bit of a makeover, with public works crews set to slurry seal and restripe the parking lot in June.

The re-striping project, which Lam refers to as “phase one” in the City’s efforts to alleviate overcrowding at the popular park, will add nearly 20 parking spaces for regular vehicles, while decreasing the number of spaces dedicated to boat-trailer parking.

“We are losing some trailer stalls, but most of those are on the west side of the parking lot … which isn’t really used (by people with boats),” Lam said.

The “phase one” project will reduce the number of trailer parking spaces from 41 to 25 and move them to the west side of the lot, where boaters typically park anyway due to its proximity to the park’s boat launch. The re-striping will also increase the number of personal vehicle parking spots from 64 to 83, Lam said.

In March, Lam told Parks Commission members the City had hired consultants to look at the possibility of installing gates and ticketing booths at Heritage Park and at the Lacamas Lake Lodge parking lot, but had discovered space constraints at both locations.

“We actually don’t have enough room to put in a gate with safe turning radiuses for folks who come in and don’t want to stay — particularly at the lodge, with the curbs we have there — but even at Heritage Park, it’s not big enough,” Lam said.

Instead, Lam said, the consultants reached out to Clark County about the possibility of installing smaller ticketing machines at Heritage Park.

“The county has about 10 (parking ticket) machines at their parks,” Lam told the Commission in March. “We don’t have to use their machines, but their machines do work really well.”

Much like the “Parking Kitty” machines installed throughout the Portland metro area, the ticket machines prompt users to give their license plate number and pay for a certain amount of time.

Lam said installing a parking fee machine at Heritage Park would not be something for the City to profit off of, but, rather, a way to help prompt more turnover inside the parking lot and alleviate overcrowding.

“We’re just one little park, not a system like Clark County, so this probably wouldn’t generate a lot of revenue,” Lam said this week. “The goal is to move cars and make sure there is movement of people using the parking lot.”

The possibility of charging for parking and installing pay stations at Heritage Park is what Lam calls “phase two” of the City’s plan for alleviating overcrowding and wouldn’t happen until at least 2025.

“This year is phase one, so we will want to assess how parking is going and if (re-striping) is enough to manage the parking load,” Lam said. “And we’re holding off (on phase two) because Clark County is assessing their fee structure and talking to their Council, so we’ll want to see what Clark County does so we can make sure we’re aligned … and that people aren’t going to clog up other places. We want to make sure that, if we make this move, that we’re doing it for the right reason — to have more access.”

Enforcing the current parking laws has had an impact on the Heritage Park overcrowding, Lam added, noting that people have stopped parking illegally on the side of Lake Road since Camas police began ticketing folks.

“We haven’t seen people parking on the road anymore,” Lam said. “That has stopped. What we are seeing is people who are double-parked in the lot and blocking someone into a spot. We hate to do it, but, really, when we tow one or two cars a year, that stops the behavior pretty quickly.”

Lam said her staff make every effort to find the owners of vehicles that are illegally double-parked at the Heritage Park parking lot before calling for a tow truck.

“They make a true effort to find the car owner … but we did have to tow a couple of cars last year,” Lam said.

Next year, Lam added, the park may get a new dock for kayakers and paddleboarders to help separate the non-motorized lake users from the motorized boats.

“That would help with safety problems that come from being near the motoried (boats),” Lam said. “But that will require permitting, and we will have to do an assessment … to add a new dock facility.”

Lam said the City will implement “phase one” with the re-striping of the parking lot this year “and then assess to see how parking is going.”

If the re-striping is enough, Lam said, “phase two” may look a bit different.

“If (the re-striping) is enough to manage the parking lot, then part of phase two would be separating the motorized and non-motorized access into the water and trying to find a second access point for the non-motorized (users).”

If the re-striping and additional parking spots are not enough to alleviate the overcrowded parking lot, Lam and her staff will then look into other options, including paid parking.

“We would also need to think about if (paid parking) would be seasonal, since we’re not doing it to generate revenue but to generate parking turnover,” Lam told the Commission in March. “And we would have to have some method of ticketing people if they (don’t pay or stay past their time limit).”

The good news, Lam added, is that the City’s state grant agreements only require Camas to offer 24 trailer parking spots at Heritage Park and that should be enough to accommodate the park’s boat users.

“So we’re trading trailer stalls for single-vehicle stalls, which is the trend anyway, and the trailer stalls are typically not maxed out,” Lam said. “We have regular (boat users) who come here — usually early in the morning and the parking lot attendants know the regulars.”