CHELAN — Starting the weekend of Aug. 8, the city’s two day-use parks, Don Morse and Lakeside, will close to visitors once the parking lots are full.
The City Council made the decision Tuesday following about 40 minutes of public comment. Letters were read from many residents, some who supported closing the parks to non-residents on weekends and others who said that would simply drive visitors elsewhere.
It’s yet to be determined whether the limited access will apply all week or just on weekends. The issue was taken up out of concern that overcrowding in the parks would increase the spread of COVID-19 and prevent the region from reopening.
“This is, of course, a hot-button issue and, unfortunately, it’s not a simple issue, as you all are very aware,” City Administrator Wade Farris told the council. “It’s multifaceted, and there’s no easy solution and there’s no solution that’s going to please all your constituents and all the citizens and all the visitors.”
The council also approved hiring a private security firm to enforce the limited access. Farris said it would be a challenge to find and train personnel to implement the decision, and he was concerned about park visitors becoming belligerent when confronted.
Lake Chelan and Lake Wenatchee state parks already have limited access. The state Parks and Recreation Commission announced Friday that, to avoid overcrowding, it would be closing day-use areas at those parks when lots became full.
Councilman Tim Hollingsworth said he’d prefer to limit access at the city parks rather than completely closing them.
“They may be in the minority, but a lot of our local residents do use those parks, especially teenagers, younger folks, young families,” he said. “It would be, I think, unfortunate to close them. And then there’s the blowback. We’re fortunate to live on a very beautiful lake. People are going to come here. They’re going to expect to try to get on the water and if they can’t get on the parks, they’re going to be at Riverwalk Park and they’re going to be on private property. ... I think it’s our responsibility to try and get our arms around managing the parks better.”
Mayor Bob Goedde said overcrowding at the parks has been an ongoing issue, but it’s become clear that the city needed to take action to address it.
“I have started the conversation because of the impending doom, I guess, with Slidewaters being closed and how important the governor thought that was, that the pandemic was creating a huge problem,” he told the council.
The council also voted to increase parking fees in town from a maximum of $15 to $20 and parking violation fees to a maximum of $75. The ordinance goes into effect 30 days after passage.
Farris said the delay might not help the city this summer, but it would for Labor Day weekend.