Now is the time
The proposed Methow Valley Recreation District will get my yes vote next month. But due to the onslaught of opposition, I had to ask myself, why do we need a recreation district? My reason is this: Recreation is the most common thread that binds our community and has the potential to grow our community. And it’s time.
Whatever your activity, it’s the time we take to step outside our day to day lives without the stress of work, school or chores and come together in a way that builds community and unites us. Recreation brings together people with divergent faiths, political views, and interests. Recreational facilities like the pool, the community center and the trailheads are community places and it’s time to invest in community.
Year after year, dedicated citizens have banded together to privately support these separate entities to benefit all. It’s time we pool the pot. It’s time to start long-range planning for amenities like an expanded aquatics facility, an inter-town trail, and wellness programs that draw from and span the valley’s geography. I stress long-range, because these things take time, and if we don’t get this ball rolling my kids may never benefit from the potential this effort holds. It’s time for the Methow Valley Recreation District.
Like any uncharted land, the district’s direction may seem unclear. But without it we will continue to swim in circles, trying to patch our leaky pool while other communities similar to ours will grow their trail systems, build better pools, erect ball fields and attract more locals and tourists. Just look at towns like Walla Walla, Hailey, Idaho, or Bend, Ore., where parks and recreation departments exist. Whether we like it or not, we are competing with these communities. It’s time we start gaining a competitive edge instead of losing. It’s time to stop squabbling over the minutia of the RCWs and helping the candidates steer a clear path forward. It’s time to build a better community and vote yes for the district.
Sarah Schrock, Twisp
Recreation is the new reality
I attended the Friends of the Recreation District forum March 20 at the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink. During the meeting I listened to many negative comments about the proposed Methow Valley Recreation District.
Recreation dollars are the new reality of income in the Methow Valley. Historically logging and agriculture were the mainstays of our economy. The land on which the ice rink was built was the Spring Creek Dairy, home to 30 Jersey milk cows that supplied dairy products to the citizens of the valley. Today the land hosts a bed and breakfast hotel and an event venue and provides recreational opportunities for locals and tourists.
While volunteering at the Shafer Museum I run into many folks that ask, “How do folks make a living in the Methow?” My reply, which gives them a laugh is, “We used to milk cows now we milk tourists, so get your money out.” Even though this comment is in jest, it is the truth.
Recreational opportunities, be they private or public, have increased job opportunities for valley businesses. The beauty of this place brings new homeowners, as well as tourists. We as citizens have the opportunity through the proposed recreation district to provide financial stability for these very important community assets. I therefore support the recreation district and the slate of candidates for commissioners that have the support of the Friends of the Recreation District.
Carl Miller, Winthrop
Proponents of the proposed Methow Valley Recreation District suggest it could help provide a year-round heated indoor pool (also known as an aquatic center), an indoor gun range, soccer fields, a baseball field, a biathlon course, summer trails, winter trails, trailhead restrooms, support for the ice rink, martial arts classes and more.
These are all luxuries.
Personally, I need to prioritize my own expenditures. We have many people in our community in need of basic services. Okanogan County Fire District 6 is requesting funding for a new fire station. In my opinion, adequately funding social services and public safety needs are far higher priorities for public support than the creation of a permanent property tax to fund recreational luxuries. Tourist attraction facilities such as the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink should be self-supporting.
That the Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp is in need of repairs is well understood. Put a well defined, single-issue measure for its renovation before the voters. Don’t use the pool to garner support for this ill-defined, open-ended, property tax-funded recreation district. If this proposed district is approved, property owners will not vote on tax rates, bond issuance or project selection.
Access to playfields, year-round heated pools and the things a Metropolitan Park District can provide are readily available in cities and suburbs. The rush to recreate such amenities here will only hasten to destroy what likely attracted most of us here in the first place. We are not lacking recreational opportunities in the Methow. We’re surrounded by public lands. Get out and enjoy them.
Let’s stop being in a rush to transform this valley into the places many of us left behind. I will vote against this measure.
Shane Ruoss, Winthrop
Not another bureaucracy
The Wagner Memorial Pool and the Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink are valuable assets for our community and should be maintained or improved as necessary. The pool was built through private funding and is maintained by the Town of Twisp. The ice rink was also built with private funds and is supported, at least in part, by the town of Winthrop. Both are also supported by user fees.
These are far better funding methods than the creation of a new bureaucracy with discretionary taxing authority and the power of eminent domain. Proponents have argued that these are the same powers granted to the towns, the school district and the fire district. Those entities provide essential services. Twisp needs a new town hall, significant improvements to the water and sewer infrastructure, and major street repairs. The fire district needs a new fire station. Neither the Town of Winthrop nor Twisp have adequate funding for police protection. The school district is considering a bond levy to upgrade a rapidly obsolescing bus fleet.
The proponents of a new recreation district need to take a closer look at what are the real priorities for the local citizens and taxpayers.
The Methow Valley has a virtual plethora of outdoor recreational opportunities. There are many accessible lakes, rivers, public forests, trails for hiking, biking and skiing, as well as miles of trails and roads for ATVs and snowmobiles. Neither the pool nor the ice rink nor the proposed “community trails” would be significant attractions to tourists. The implementation of those trails would also likely require the condemnation of private property.
Since the proposed recreational district would do nothing to significantly increase tourism, the argument that it would be an economic boon for the valley is specious if not downright suspect.
The most viable funding model for recreational facilities is the Methow Valley Sport Trails Association. MVSTA is a privately funded organization that has created and maintains one of the largest and best-maintained year-round trail systems in the country. That model is an infinitely superior alternative to another government bureaucracy with discretionary taxing authority and the power of eminent domain.
Richard DeFaccio, Twisp
The Methow Valley has virtually no self-governance, outside of the towns of Winthrop and Twisp. We have no representative on the county commission, where major decisions affecting our lives and property are often made with complete disregard for our wishes. The same is true to a lesser degree with the PUD. For example, they want to force us to pay for a new Methow power line that suits their goals, not our desires and actual needs.
The proposed Methow Valley Recreation District is really our first, small chance to govern ourselves. Valley residents will be elected to run it. Its projects will directly benefit the valley, not serve as an income source for poorer parts of Okanogan County.
I understand and respect that there are disagreements about what people want from a rec district. What I find very disheartening, however, is the repeated argument that we are incapable of doing a good job of implementing it. Letter writers predict that the new board will tax to the maximum and then make bad decisions about how to spend the money. They predict that the board will use eminent domain without any concern for property owners and ignore traditional valley values.
In other words, the argument is that we should defeat the rec district proposal because the valley isn’t capable of good, sensible self-governance at any level. I find this argument sad, and I disagree completely.
Randy Brook, Twisp
Re: the proposed Methow Valley Recreation District — good intentions, wrong vehicle. RCW 35.61 sets forth the legal parameters under which the Methow Valley (actually School District 350) Recreation District is to be run. Section .010 states the district is “created for the management, control, improvement, maintenance, and acquisition of parks, parkways, boulevards and recreation facilities.” In other words, if you organize under this statute you are to own and maintain real property.
The district is not meant to be a funding scheme using property tax dollars and private property. The proponents of this district have stated several times in public meetings that they do not want to own real property. Well, you organized under the wrong RCW then. They appear to be getting legal advice (from an attorney whose identity they do not want to reveal and who apparently wants to remain anonymous) that if the law doesn’t specifically say they can’t do it, then they can. This is a slippery legal slope and, if this district is approved, could cost taxpayers (remember, it will be our property tax dollars used to defend the district), more money in legal fees than would ever be spent on recreation.
I believe the folks running for the recreation district commissioner positions are all well intentioned.
However, many who are for the district have only a cursory knowledge of the RCW under which the district is organized. This proposal should have been vetted at open public meetings before a petition was ever presented to the voters. The ire that is now present at public meetings could have been dealt with and we would not have the community at odds.
It feels like we are being rushed into voting on this district. What’s the hurry? Take the time to answer the questions being asked (bring the recreation district’s attorney with you, or at least find an attorney willing to come out of the shadows and represent you at a public meeting); organize under the proper statute; educate the proposed district commissioners; make sure the voters are behind you; then go for it.
Chrystal Perrow, Winthrop