People worried about noise, fast boats
People who cherish Patterson Lake as an informal local spot to hang out with friends and cool off in the summer are concerned that a proposed upgrade to the boat launch could tarnish the low-key atmosphere.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) got an $880,000 grant last year to replace the gravel boat launch with a concrete ramp and add an adjacent dock. The upgrades will make the area accessible to disabled users and include replacing the existing outhouse with an accessible one.
“The scope involves adding a concrete plank boat launch, paving the launch approach, installing a boarding float, restroom, kiosks, and signs, upgrading the parking area, and adding parking stalls for people with disabilities,” WDFW said in its application.
WDFW described the lake as “one of the busiest recreation hotspots in north-central Washington,” with year-round recreation opportunities, including fishing and ice fishing. “The primary recreation opportunity provided by this project is motorized boating.”
The focus on motorized boating has sparked concern. In comments to Okanogan County regarding the proposal, several people said they go to Patterson Lake to swim or kayak expressly because the lake doesn’t attract high-speed motor boats.
The speed limit on the lake is 8 miles per hour (mph), but some people worry that the new boat ramp and dock will draw larger boats and tempt travel at higher speeds. Regulations for the lake are set by Okanogan County, in the county code and Shoreline Master Program (SMP).
Okanogan County solicited comments in November in conjunction with the permit for construction in a body of water. Of the two dozen people who submitted comments to the county, virtually all expressed concern about the impacts of the upgrades on what one called “this little gem of a lake.” Other comments came from state agencies and the Colville Confederated Tribes, who reminded the county of the need to follow water-quality regulations and to check for the presence of cultural resources in the area.
“I am a daily user in the summer, paddle boarding and swimming are my sports of choice. This is the only lake left near Winthrop that we can enjoy without big boats, jet skis and the like,” a Winthrop resident said in her written comments.
She was one of several people who said Pearrygin Lake had become unsafe and unappealing because of the number of power boats and personal watercraft (which include popular brand names like Jet Skis).
One writer said a dock “raises the possibility of larger boats with larger motors and speedsters roiling both the lake waters and the noise levels” on the “largely tranquil lake.” Despite the 8-mph speed limit, there is no enforcement, she said. Some suggested the county ban water skiing and personal watercraft altogether.
Anglers were concerned that high-speed boats and noise would interfere with fishing.
Others feared that upgraded infrastructure will tempt people to moor their boats on the lake overnight, which could lead to dumping of waste and other water pollution.
“Please consider taking these steps to protect our little lake from becoming just another playground for toys with motors,” said one commenter. “Its uniqueness arises from the low intensity of recreation there and from the lack of unnecessary infrastructure,” said another.
Others worried about impacts on wildlife, since the lake provides habitat for osprey, eagles, ducks and geese.
In addition to the dock and boat launch, work is planned along the shoreline, where WDFW will add logs to prevent erosion, stabilize the roots of trees, and seed with grass to create an inviting area under the trees, according to the environmental checklist WDFW prepared. The plans mention removal of danger trees, but no live trees will be removed, said Frank Stevick, an environmental planner and supervisor of capital assets and management for WDFW.
The new boat ramp and adjacent dock will make it easier for people, particularly those with mobility issues, to get into a boat, WDFW Okanogan Lands Operations Manager Justin Haug said.
The area currently has few developed amenities — basically a gravel parking lot and a gravel boat launch, plus an outhouse that users say is rarely maintained. WDFW is responsible for restroom maintenance, but they have only one employee for all of Okanogan County and some sites in Chelan County, Haug said. Last summer, they tried to hire an additional seasonal employee but couldn’t fill the job, he said.
No changes to boat regs
The 160-acre lake is surrounded by shrub-steppe, aspens and conifer, with views of the Cascade Mountain foothills. Sun Mountain Lodge rents cabins on the lakeshore across from the boat launch.
The upgrades are intended “to significantly improve the boating experience on Patterson Lake by offering new and improved user amenities on the only public access available to the lake,” according to the grant application.
“The improvements we’re making won’t make any difference in the kind of watercraft that can use the lake — it will just make it easier to get into the lake,” Haug said.
The Okanogan County code implements boating regulations under Health and Safety. Those regulations cover speed limits, noise, and types of permissible watercraft on bodies of water throughout the county. Patterson is one of a dozen lakes with an 8-mph speed limit.
The county’s Shoreline Master Program covers docks, boat launches and moorage to protect shoreline functions without affecting recreation and tourism. The SMP also covers landscaping and vegetation at boating facilities.
The grant for the Patterson boat launch was among $12.8 million in grants for Okanogan County projects that the state Recreation and Conservation Office (RCO) awarded in 2021. Of the 22 projects receiving grants in the county, 15 are in the Methow Valley, totaling $9.7 million.
“The grants are very competitive,” RCO Director Megan Duffy told the News at the time. “Every grant is evaluated by advisory committees made up of local residents and technical experts,” Duffy said. “They rank the applications ensuring that the most needed and best projects rise to the top. That’s important because nearly 40% of the applications remain unfunded.”
The Patterson Lake project came in fourth in the RCO scoring process. The grant will cover the full cost of the project, with no matching funds required.
WDFW cited the Okanogan Country Tourism Destination Master Plan in its grant application, highlighting a generic design from the plan for a boat launch with trailhead access, parking and an information kiosk.
The master plan, published by the Okanogan County Tourism Council (OCTC) last year, is intended to draw tourists to attractions throughout the county and to develop amenities to make areas more appealing.
OCTC held meetings and conducted a survey to understand public views on tourism. One of the guiding principles to emerge is “Recognize that tourism has limits and must be managed. Savvy communities always ask how many tourists are too many? Ensure that tourism development does not exceed the carrying capacity of ecosystems and sensitive areas,” the plan says.
“Of key importance in Okanogan Country is balancing tourism activity with protecting and preserving the unique qualities of the environment and outdoor areas that draw people to this amazing and extraordinary setting,” the plan says. “This plan sets the foundation for responsible tourism planning and implementation — encouraging patterns of visitation that draw visitors to a diversity of places throughout the County with the potential to reduce congestion and impacts in those areas that are often being overly loved.”
The project has had several rounds of public review. WDFW determined in August that the changes wouldn’t have an impact on the environment.
The Okanogan County Planning Department approved the permit for construction this week. People with standing can appeal the decision to the county’s hearing examiner by January 13.
The Planning Department is working on other details of the permitting process, county planner Rocky Robbins said.