A 175-acre parcel of mostly-forgotten state park land in Packwood might soon be turned over to Lewis County — with the possibility of campgrounds, parking and other amenities to turn forest that is now “passively” open to the public into a destination.
“We’re really excited about this idea,” said Jaime Deering, executive director of Destination Packwood, the local promotional organization that first approached Washington State Parks with the proposal. “It is a project in motion. There’s nothing formal in writing, but there’s conversation.”
Currently, the land north of the Cowlitz River between Craig Road and Skate Creek Road is owned by the state agency, which allows public access but provides no services. There’s an informal network of trails, some marked with tape and mapped by nearby resident Bill Serrahn, the park’s unofficial caretaker.
The property straddles Skate Creek, with lush second-growth forest, elk habitat and expansive views of nearby peaks. While the state has found little use for the land, some locals think it could be the centerpiece of efforts to promote outdoor recreation in Packwood.
“This would give people access to this area in a formal way,” Deering said. “There would be parking spaces, restrooms. … There’s a need here for the trails and the park and the campground. We’re hoping to meet that need and provide more opportunities for people to come to Packwood.”
Destination Packwood is proposing to have the state turn the land over to Lewis County, which would then allow the tourism agency to take over campground management once the transfer is finalized. Meryl Lipman, a communications consultant for Washington State Parks, said the state would deed the property to the county rather than requiring a purchase.
“The ball is really in their court,” she said. “If they come back to us, then we can move forward.”
She noted that such transfers often include a reversionary clause, which returns the property to the state if the land is unable to be used as intended by its new owner.
County manager Erik Martin said that even if the land was transferred from State Parks, it would still need to be preserved to recreational use. He noted that Lewis County has little funding in its budget for parks, and that ownership of the land might present a good opportunity for a public-private partnership to handle operations. Martin also noted that even without up-front financial commitments, the county may have to assume authority for the property if it did require some form of investment.
“If the county were to decide to do this, obviously the ultimate responsibility — the county would be the underlying backstop to whatever might happen,” he said. “There’s that risk that needs to be considered.”
County commissioners opted Monday to hold further discussion on the issue until commissioner Gary Stamper — in whose district the land sits — was back in the office.
According to Deering, Destination Packwood is hoping to get the transfer completed, then work together with the county to come up with cost projections to look at feasibility, exploring whether a campground and other services will be financially viable. The tourism organization is working to gather feedback from the community and nearby property owners about possible development.
Some in Packwood have advocated recently for an expanded trail network accessible near town and below the higher-elevation snow, along with year-round camping opportunities. Developing this property would meet those needs, Deering said.
“It’s the availability of preserving the forested area in our town,” she said. “We would have a park and we would link our trail system that’s coming on board and maybe in the future there would be some campground availability there, which is needed in this area.”
If the transfer happens, she said, Destination Packwood is hoping the land will be called Skate Creek Park. That’s the name Serrahn uses for the property, and he maintains a page filled with information about the site on skatecreekpark.org.