While its transformation from a depressed timber town to thriving "Bavarian" village has been remarkable over the last half century - Leavenworth might be pushing the proverbial "Golden Goose" to its limits if a planned amusement park project is allowed to move forward.
Last week more than 200 people attended a public hearing on a planned amusement park project near the intersection of Highway 2 and Icicle Road. Project proponents are seeking a Conditional Use Permit and Side Yard Variance to allow the commercial amusement park that includes 3,000 feet of stainless steel track (on pylons) for an alpine roller coaster that will extend 234 vertical feet up to the top of the mountainside.
The public was allowed to comment as part of a review by the City's Hearing Examiner Andrew Kottkamp, who said he will decide on the fate of the permit perhaps as soon as next week. In February, the city approved an environmental analysis of the project and that decision was appealed by a group of outspoken park opponents called Friends of Leavenworth.
"Friends" are concerned that an amusement park will stretch the town and its 2,000 or so full-time residents to their limit. Tens of thousands of visitors already flock to Leavenworth to see the holiday lights, listen to German music, and wash down giant bratwurst with steins of cold beer.
They believe the traffic studies done by the developer underestimate the project's impact. "Residents currently experience unacceptable delays at the U.S. 2/Icicle Road intersection during the summer and holidays. With a projected 100,000 visitors a year, traffic congestion will get worse," reads the group's website.
They also expressed safety concerns. "Icicle Road is part of a very popular bike loop and safety for bicyclists will be negatively affected by the increased congestion," the site continued.
Other concerns include noise (the amusement park will be open until 10 p.m. and people generally scream during roller coaster rides) and lighting (the coaster will be lit all the way up the mountainside and visible to nearby residents throughout the valley), they say.
People who live in tourist destinations such as Leavenworth make sacrifices. More than two million people visit Leavenworth each year and residents - for the most part- have been accommodating. They understand that the town's economy depends on those dollars to provide services residents enjoy.
But when is enough enough? We haven't see anything to indicate that Leavenworth is struggling to attract tourists. In fact, there is plenty of evidence to indicate the town is struggling to keep up with the current traffic. There are many days during the year where it takes an hour or longer for traffic to move a mile down the highway.
And let's not forget that U.S. 2 isn't just used to get to and from Leavenworth. An amusement park in the middle of that town will impact anyone trying to get to and from the west side of the mountains.
Leavenworth doesn't need a roller coaster to attract visitors. Outside of the Bavarian theme, there is white water rafting, biking, hiking and some of the best rock climbing you will find anywhere. There is a danger that an amusement park will discourage outdoor enthusiasts looking to escape the bright lights and noise of the city.
We agree with the Friends of Leavenworth and encourage the City Hearing Examiner to reverse the city's decision. The most important voice in this debate belongs to the people who call Leavenworth home.