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State OKs Old Man House Park public process

SUQUAMISH — While the decision of whether the state will retain Old Man House Park or transfer the ownership to a local group will not be determined until August, legislators recently showed their support for the public process that would put the park into the most appropriate hands.

Based on language added to a House Bill 2573 for the state’s capital budget that was sent for approval from Gov. Gary Locke, legislators approved the public process the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission must go through to transfer ownership of Old Man House Park to another group.

The addition also encourages the transfer to the tribe if the commission decides to do so.

“The commission may, if it deems it appropriate after studying the various options, transfer the park to the Suquamish Tribe,” the bill states.

The Olympia-based Citizens for Parks and Recreation pushed for the new section be added, said CPR coordinator and lobbyist Jim King. The organization is made up of groups and individuals who support funding and retaining parks.

Last summer, King heard about the dispute over Old Man House State Park and started discussion in Olympia through the Citizens.

The additional language, King said, is the state legislature’s way of giving its advance approval of the state parks commissioners’ decision. Two requirements necessary for the transfer are that the new owners must keep it open to the public and, if the tribe does obtain the property, it agrees to a waiver of limited sovereignty on the land, he said.

“It was surprising to me it went as easily as it did,” King said, noting several senators have “anti-tribe” tendencies. However, the legislature has also been working on other tribal preservation issues within the state and this was a “no-brainer,” he said.

“This wasn’t just a land transfer,” King explained. “People were looking at the history of it. They were saying it seems like an appropriate thing to do, a respectful thing to do.”

King also noted that if the Suquamish does receive the land, it will be the first time Washington will have transferred land back into the hands of a tribe. The transfer could set a precedent for other tribes, he remarked.

“They know they are going to have to be on their best behavior,” King said. “The other tribes know (Suquamish is) the first tribe to have this transfer and everything is going to be judged on what happens.”

Representatives of the tribe said they were thankful that King and his group were in their corner.

“We appreciate what CPR did, we greatly appreciate that,” said tribal spokesperson Rich Brooks. “The park commission still has a process and a process that we respect.”

Friends of Old Man House has been opposed to the transfer of ownership to the tribe since the word got out that the state was looking to release its smaller parks to local groups due to budgetary reasons.

Friends spokesperson Matthew Cleverley said he didn’t think language would have much impact on the state’s final decision.

“I’m not sure if it makes a whole lot of difference,” he said. “It just reinforces the process.”

The Friends group is trying to work with other local organizations, such as Suquamish Olalla Neighbors, to come up with a solution or middle ground on the ownership issue “where there is not a fear of complete tribal control but it still allows the state to transfer it,” Cleverley said.

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