By JESSE BURKHARDT
Efforts to form a regional parks and recreation district are entering an accelerated phase this week.
Members of the committee working to create the "Mount Adams Parks & Recreation District" are ready to begin circulating the petitions necessary to place the concept on the general election ballot in November. The petition drive is set to kick off on March 5.
A major part of the impetus for the parks and recreation district is to build a new swimming pool, the site of which is tentatively planned for land adjacent to Columbia High School in White Salmon. Forming the district would spread the costs of construction, maintenance, and operation of the swimming pool -- which has been plagued by budget troubles and major repair bills in recent years -- to a much wider area. Currently, all the maintenance and repair costs are solely the responsibility of the city of White Salmon, and it has been a big budgetary burden for the city.
"The proposed district will be for the ongoing maintenance and operation of a proposed new aquatic center, and will benefit the safety, health, and well-being of our communities through after-school youth programs, adult community education, trails, bike lanes, community gardens, and other projects deemed necessary by the district," explained Bill Ward, one of the committee members involved in efforts to form the parks and recreations district.
The district would also provide an umbrella for a long list of activities, including hiking, biking, skiing, horseback riding, and more.
To get the issue on the ballot, organizers will need to secure signatures from 15 percent of the registered voters living within a geographic area that roughly corresponds with the Port of Klickitat's boundaries. The area includes several western Klickitat County communities -- White Salmon, Bingen, Glenwood, Klickitat, Husum, BZ Corner, Snowden, Appleton, Lyle, Trout Lake, and Dallesport -- as well as the Underwood area of Skamania County.
"We feel we have a groundswell of momentum happening," said White Salmon's Bill Whidden, a member of the committee working to make the new parks and recreation district a reality. "It's about time for this."
Whidden added that the group wants to get signatures from all the communities expected to be included in the district's boundaries.
Organizers also noted that the petition will not be at specific locations; rather, the formation committee will schedule petition drives and door-to-door campaigns.
According to Meghann Dallin, health educator with the Klickitat County Health Department, the goal of creating a local parks and recreation district fits hand in hand with the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommendations for community strategies to address poor health. A parks and recreation district would serve to improve access to outdoor recreational facilities and increase opportunities for physical activity, thereby helping in addressing chronic disease and other health issues in the community.
For example, Dallin pointed out that in a 2008 study of weight and obesity, 14 percent of 8th-graders in Klickitat County were obese, and another 22 percent were considered overweight. For 12th-graders, the rates were 12 percent obese and 14 percent overweight.
Provided the petition drive is successful, the Klickitat County Board of Commissioners is expected to hold public hearings on the proposed parks and recreation district this summer.
There will also be a Web site blog to update petition locations and progress of the initiative.