State Funds Next Steps in Restoration of Whiteman Cove

YMCA of Greater Seattle found its legislative champion in Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle) who heard its message — The DNR plan will destroy the Camp Colman experience.


Washington State Legislators appropriated $900,000 in the 2022-23 state capital budget for the Department of Natural Resources to advance plans for removal of barriers to fish passage at Whiteman Cove on Case Inlet to comply with a 2013 federal injunction mandating state restoration of salmon habitat.

Two-thirds of that amount will go toward helping the YMCA develop a plan to save salmon and save Camp Colman.

Details of the funding from legislators represented a big win for the YMCA of Greater Seattle.

After the DNR finalized its plan in February to reopen a natural channel to the cove, allowing normal tidal exchanges with Case Inlet, and to build a bridge estimated to cost $1.9 million over the channel to preserve access to the camp, the YMCA launched a lobbying campaign calling on state legislators to stop funding for the project.

In a promotional video available on YouTube to “Save Salmon – Save Camp,” the YMCA maintained that the lagoon should be left intact because the “DNR failed to include viable options that support both enhanced fish passage as well as preservation of critical environmental education, water safety and recreational programs of Camp Colman.” The video outlines the vision that YMCA’s fish passage expert consultants maintain, that new fish-friendly tide gate options could be designed to accommodate both objectives.

“Sen. Frockt was just a huge advocate for us and really helped us in that space and how we bring all parties to the table and such,” said Gwen Ichinose-Bagley, Youth Development Officer for YMCA of Greater Seattle.

Bagley said the YMCA has more questions than answers at this point. “The funding allows us the opportunity to dig into a more well-rounded plan that takes into consideration all the different stakeholders.”

The funding comes with a number of strings attached, as described in the capital budget:

First, legislators stipulated that $100,000 of the appropriation “is provided solely for DNR to contract with a third-party facilitator for the purpose of collaborating with the YMCA of Greater Seattle Camp Colman on finding solutions for maintaining a high-quality camp experience while establishing a barrier-free passage for migrating fish species at Whiteman Cove.”

Second, that “$500,000 is provided solely for the department to grant to the YMCA of Greater Seattle to retain expertise to scope, plan and advance the future of the Camp Colman experience given the restoration of the Whiteman Cove estuary.”

Third and lastly, “the remaining $300,000 is provided solely for the department to fund the design of the fish blockage removal, and predesign enhancements for a new bridge and roadway across Whiteman Cove that are part of the barrier to the fish passage removal project and necessary as part of maintaining the primary route as access to Camp Colman.”

The planning must also include tribal input and participation from the departments of ecology and fish and wildlife, to create “a vision benefiting native flora and fauna, as well as serve as an environmental outdoor education opportunity that will serve youth and families, especially those from historically marginalized and underrepresented communities, plus provide educational opportunity for youth and families to learn of native cultural heritage unique and specific to the natural and human history of the site.”

Any plan for restoration of the cove must identify projects and costs for improvements for the camp, such as water access or swimming facilities with recommendations for funding. DNR, on behalf of the YMCA, must submit the plan in a report to the fiscal committees of the Legislature by Dec. 31.

All told, legislators gave DNR and the YMCA a tall order. DNR had already consulted with local tribes and experts for eight years to create its first proposal to restore salmon habitat and maintain access to Camp Colman. The new plan must do the same while not affecting Camp Colman’s aquatic activities in the cove, which under the original plan would fill and drain with the tide.

Bagley said the YMCA focus has always been to find a win-win solution.

“We will be partnering with DNR and various departments, leaning on the Squaxin Island Tribe for their knowledge and their perspective in creating this plan, so that we continue to honor all of our agreements and continue to meet our common goal.

“We feel like this is really a great milestone on what the future will be,” she said.