Imagine a nature trail that leads from the South Bend boat ramp into the marshlands of Willapa Bay where Pacific County's first sawmill once stood.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) is considering a plan to develop such a trail to showcase the natural estuary on the 120-acre property it owns next to the city boat ramp.
As a first step, WDFW has contracted with Geo Engineering - an environmental engineering firm based in Port Orchard - to develop a preliminary design on the site known locally as the "Chermack property."
Once that preliminary design is completed in early May, WDFW plans to ask the residents of South Bend and the rest of Pacific County to comment on the proposal.
"The preliminary design is just a starting place for discussion of this plan," said Sue Patnude, WDFW regional director. "Before we go any further with it, we want to hear what area residents have to say."
South Bend resident Ron Craig, who has been involved in the trail proposal as a member of the Willapa Bay Regional Fisheries Enhancement Group (RFEG), said the city council has agreed to host a public meeting on the plan in May. Although no date has yet been set for that meeting, Craig said WDFW and other agencies involved in the project are well aware of the need for local support.
"This isn't going to be a `take it or leave it' kind of deal," Craig said. "Everyone agreed from the start that local citizens should be involved in decisions that affect their community."
Craig said the initial idea for a nature trail arose during discussions about stream-restoration work completed in 2001 on the Chermack property by the Willapa Bay RFEG and work at the neighboring boat launch scheduled to be completed later this year. All parties involved in those projects - including representatives for the City of South Bend, Pacific County, WDFW, the Willapa Bay RFEG and the Washington Department of Transportation - thought the idea of a nature trail on the Chermack property was worth exploring, Craig said.
"The Chermack property is a beautiful place and could be a draw for tourists passing through South Bend," Craig said. "But everybody recognized from the get-go that local support is going to be essential for this proposal to move forward."
If agreement can be reached on a proposed design, the next step would be to seek funding for the project, Patnude said.
"We're not going to start thinking seriously about funding options until we hear from the community," Patnude said. "First things first."
Once a meeting date has been set, WDFW will publicize it throughout the county, Patnude said. In the meantime, people with ideas about the proposal can contact her directly at (360) 586-6129 or at firstname.lastname@example.org on the Internet.