Mount Adams Parks and Recreation District (MAPARD) sponsored a community meeting on Sept. 27 to discuss potential support of developing safe, legal access to Lyle’s sandbar. County Commissioner Dave Sauter led the forum, which took place at the Lyle Lions Club off State Route 14.
MAPARD declared the theme of the talk SEALS, Safe Easy Access Legally to the Sandbar. Over the past few years, interest in the sandbar has boomed for recreationalists. Fisherman, kite boarders, hikers, dog-owners, and all walks of life venture to Lyle’s sandbar to be closer to the river.
Currently, access to the sandbar is a gray area. Those who wish to trek down to the river have to cross SR 14 then illegally cross BNSF Railway tracks, and eventually pick their way down the side of a bluff.
As MAPARD member Vern Harpole illustrated, when addressing the full house, “You’re going to get run over by a truck, you’re going to get run over by a train, you’re going to fall down a hill, you might get a ticket — who knows what might happen, to get to this spectacular beautiful spot.”
Harpole explained that Lyle’s Community Council had tried to organize a coalition in the past to gain legal access, but ended up giving up due to the magnitude of the project. “Now when I come down the hill on windy days, you can hardly get through all the cars — they’re parked halfway up to the wineries now. It’s just not going away, and it’s just getting bigger and better all the time,” concluded Harpole.
Before opening the discussion, Commissioner Sauter explained he had previously met with representatives of BNSF Railway and the U.S. Forest Service, both entities own land either providing access or adjacent to the sandbar.
Sauter explained the meeting went well and he was able to plant the seed to develop either an over, or under, crossing of the rail road and State Route. An at grade crossing is off the table.
“This is a topic that’s very close to me,” said Sauter, who grew up in Lyle. Sauter explained the purpose of the talk was to see if the community of Lyle was interested in pursuing legal, safe access, and that this was the preliminary stages of setting any sort of plan in to motion.
“The reason for the meeting, is to get a sense from the community. What do we want to do about this? Is it worth the effort? Because I am here to manage expectations,” said Sauter. In order for safe access to be pursued, all stakeholders would have to be partners in the process, Sauter explained.
Stakeholders include the U.S. Forest Service, Yakama Nation, BNSF Railroad, Washington Parks, Washington Department of Transportation, and private landowners. “There are a lot of competing, conflicting concerns down there. All of them legitimate,” noted Sauter.
“It could be a spectacular asset, here in this part of the Gorge, and this community needs something like that,” said Sauter. “I think that we can all agree that the community has suffered, and has not come along with the rest of the region, and I think this could be one of those things that could help move this community.”
When the floor was opened for comments an avid fisherman expressed resentment toward kite boarders kiting in the mouth of the Klickitat River, claiming the activity was scaring fish, and that increasing accessibility would be detrimental to fishermen’s catch.
The majority of support voiced was by kite boarders from the Gorge. A couple from Portland and a father from Hood River also supported developing safe, legal access to the sandbar and asked Commissioner Sauter to pursue the matter further.
A few Lyle locals added their voice, sharing that they used the sandbar when walking dogs. Overall easier access was regarded as a benefit for the community, as well as for visiting recreationalists.
“Honestly, money and engineering is the easy part of this, that’s all totally doable. That’s not the hard part of this, it’s the process of doing that and the coordination with all of these agencies and the stakeholders,” explained Sauter.
Sauter told attendants the next step in the plan is to analyze how the project would affect the community, and quantify its potential impact. “My expectation is that we are going to do an analysis on this project, and it will get in to the strategic plan and that will identify what those steps are,” said Sauter.