Schoesler blasts Washington State Parks over Steptoe Butte, Lyons Ferry parks

One popular state park – Steptoe Butte – in eastern Washington’s 9th Legislative District is about to have a very basic service eliminated. Another state park in the district – Lyons Ferry – continues to see long delays with the reopening of its campsites. Both situations don’t sit well with 9th District Sen. Mark Schoesler.

Schoesler recently learned that Washington State Parks will close the restrooms at the top of the Steptoe Butte State Park Heritage Site in Whitman County.

“While I’m happy Washington State Parks is going to repave the road to the top of Steptoe Butte, I strongly oppose the decision to end a very basic service by closing the restrooms atop the butte,” said Schoesler, R-Ritzville. “The top of the butte is very isolated. Anyone having a picnic there will be forced to travel five miles down to the park entrance for a restroom. In what other state park would that be OK? Park lovers in our region – and I am one of them – deserve better.

“Seeing how Steptoe Butte State Park is in my district, the State Parks administration should have notified me and Representatives Schmick and Dye about the restroom closures. Instead, I found out from reading the Whitman County Gazette,” added Schoesler. “While I commend the Gazette for its reporting, you wonder why the State Parks people kept it quiet from me.”

When he inquired, Schoesler said, State Parks officials said the restrooms are being closed as part of a deal with local tribes.

“I understand that the tribes consider Steptoe Butte to be sacred ground. It is a special place for all of us. But I think this move will ruin what would otherwise be a great experience for many visitors who travel to the summit,” said Schoesler.

The Ritzville senator said Lyons Ferry State Park, located at the confluence of the Snake and Palouse rivers south of Washtucna, was reopened about 10 years ago. After the state park reopened, Schoesler said, many people in the area asked why the campsites at Lyons Ferry remain closed.

“There were public meetings with State Parks officials at Dayton and Washtucna several years ago about the campsites at Lyons Ferry and Palouse Falls state parks,” said Schoesler. “The plan was to close some campsites at Palouse Falls and reopen some of the campsites at Lyons Ferry. But the campsites at Lyons Ferry still have not reopened, and they won’t for several more years. When I pressed State Parks officials about it, they blamed the Army Corps of Engineers and claimed it will take another six years to restore water, sewer and electrical service available – and who knows how much longer to reopen the campsites after that. This is unacceptable.”

Schoesler pointed out that Lyons Ferry State Park is popular for fishing, water skiing, boating, picnicking and other recreational opportunities.

“Many hard-working taxpayers bring their boats to Lyons Ferry to enjoy a day on the water. It’s too bad that the campsites there are not open so visitors could stay overnight,” said Schoesler.

Schoesler criticized State Parks officials for not trying harder to find solutions to the issues at the Steptoe Butte and Lyons Ferry parks and for not being proactive in communicating with state legislators in the region or with local citizens about the status of the two parks.

“You’d expect a state agency would be able to work with tribal governments and the Corps and find solutions that allow these two parks to be fully used and enjoyed. Instead, it seems like the State Parks officials just threw up their hands and moved on to something else instead of finding solutions that are acceptable across the board.”