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Kettle Falls marina closure could indicate a larger issue for congresswoman



After National Park Service officials announced last week that a marina that serves the north end of Lake Roosevelt would close, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers fired off a quick request for the NPS to reconsider and extend the current concessioner’s contract while the NPS answers several questions.

Those five questions appropriately hone in on the specifics of the problem at Kettle Falls, where a marina and houseboat operation’s concessioner contract is up at the end of April.

It’s possible that a much broader inquiry would be well worth the time of the congresswoman serving the state’s 5th Congressional District, one that would look deeply at both regulatory and statutory intransigence in the face of challenging economic realities in some rural areas entrusted to the NPS, including Lake Roosevelt.

This is definitely not an endorsement of the current Republican push to privatize federal lands, but it is recognition of a nagging suspicion that recreation and tourism on Lake Roosevelt gets shorted for a conglomeration of reasons.

One of those is a leaning on the part of most employees of the National Park Service that can tend to lean a little too far when its entrusted space is less than pristine wilderness, such as Lake Roosevelt.

Presumably, one does not join NPS with a burning desire to increase its concessioners’ profits; more likely those dedicated rangers and others who seek careers there have a love outdoors, of nature and all its beauty, and of this great nation’s “best idea,” the National Park System itself.

While the ideals that follow are probably exactly what the country needs in the NPS, they may lead to blind spots when it comes to the practical side of business.

Congress, too, might shoulder some responsibility for missing the mark in writing the statutes that govern the NPS and its concessions. That has certainly been the case in the past here when the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area failed to attract a concessioner to operate a marina at Crescent Bay, a spot that even today has a shiny new development plan without a prayer of a chance of becoming reality.

That, and everything else, has to do with Congress and its perennial failure to put funds into the recreation area. Since the 1940s, the Grand Coulee Dam area has been hopeful that a federal investment in the Crescent Bay area would spur private investment. But when private investors showed interest a couple decades ago, Congress decided to shorten the timeline they’d have to meet to make their investment back in national parks.

And when the recreation area got millions of dollars to build a new ranger station and shower at Spring Canyon Campground, the plans included a much needed concession stand to offer food and refreshments to the throngs at the beach. The part of that building devoted to the kitchen would soon fall to storage and, later, education uses because concessioners couldn’t make a profit while meeting NPS requirements they thought were overblown and far too stringent.

The situation at Kettle Falls may need investigation, but if Rep. McMorris Rodgers wants to make a lasting impact with Congressional oversight of the National Park Service, she should devote some time to looking deeper into Lake Roosevelt. It’s likely not a unique story.

Scott Hunter

editor and publisher

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