ASOTIN — A Clarkston resident who has fond memories of Headgates Park is mounting a campaign to convince Asotin County officials not to sell it.
Jim Sargeant, 60, has filed large public records requests and compiled historical documents of nearby Headgates Dam in an effort to stop the sale. He said a petition may be his next step.
“I couldn’t believe it when I heard the county was thinking about selling it,” Sargeant said in a recent interview. “It’s our only access to the creek that’s still close to town, other than the Asotin City Park, and it’s not remote. We used to go swimming, tubing and fishing there.”
The park, now closed because of safety concerns, is no longer a popular destination and doesn’t offer much recreation, county officials said. The property would be better off on the tax rolls, and the wheels are slowly turning to put it on the auction block.
However, the potential sale of Headgates Park will go before the public at a hearing before anything is finalized.
At a recent board meeting, Asotin County officials said they are moving forward with an appraisal of the property along Asotin Creek and reviewing right of ways, easements and water rights.
“We can’t afford to keep it up or patrol it, so therefore it has become a liability,” Chairman Chuck Whitman said. “We want to sell it to a private entity and get it back on the tax rolls.”
Headgates Park, 8 miles southwest of Asotin, encompasses about 36 acres along Asotin Creek Road. The county-owned park could be developed into residential lots, the commissioners said.
Since talk of the potential sale first surfaced, numerous interested parties have contacted board members about buying the land, Commissioner Chris Seubert said.
“There’s really no reason for us to keep it,” Seubert said.
Hooliganism vs. park potential
Vandalism and underage drinking parties have been reported at the site, and the Asotin County Sheriff’s Office doesn’t have the manpower to patrol the area on a regular basis, officials said.
Sargeant suggested video surveillance could be an option, but law enforcement officials have said without Wi-Fi, trail cameras wouldn’t provide immediate information to the sherrif’s office.
Cameras are in use in the city of Clarkston at Beachview, Foster, Vernon and Arnold parks and along the bike path near the Snake River.
Sargeant also believes the county should explore available grants to make park improvements, such as walking trails and other features. In its heyday, Headgates was a fun place to visit for the whole family, he said.
“I’m just curious why they want to sell the only county park they own,” Sargeant said. “Someone from out of town would probably buy it and then what happens? The county has never done anything to develop it, and it has a lot of potential. They have options. Closing access is not the answer. I think people need to stand up if they want to keep this park.”
Sargeant said the county government has been slow in responding to his records requests, but he’s not giving up. Future generations should be allowed to experience the park, he said.
“This is not just about me,” he said. “Some people think the commissioners have already made their minds up. I’m still gathering information, and this isn’t a done deal yet.”
Several campsites at Headgates Park typically are filled during hunting season, and a fishing pond for young anglers and senior citizens is stocked with rainbow trout by the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Access to the main park was blocked with concrete barriers this spring after deep ruts from vehicles were found in the mud, along with trash at campsites.
Headgates Park is empty and quiet now, but the dam that inspired its name was once a major player in the development of Asotin County.
History of Headgates
Headgates Dam, located near the park, was once used to direct the water of Asotin Creek into a 15-mile-long flume that delivered water to Clarkston for irrigation, domestic water and electricity generation.
According to the Office of Archeology and Historic Preservation, efforts to irrigate the arid lands in Asotin County were first undertaken in 1896. A group of Boston investors, led by Charles Francis Adams, proposed building the dam on Asotin Creek and diverting the water to 3,000 acres in Vineland.
In 1895, Adams acquired land near the center of the project and helped form a new town, which eventually became known as Clarkston. The high school there is named after him.
In 1906, a headgate and concrete diversion dam was built on the creek. The water flowed through a high-line enclosed canal and was discharged into a man-made reservoir north of the Vineland area, according to historians. The project helped create the Clarkston Heights and fruit orchards in the Vineland region on the west side of the city.
The pipeline also was tapped to irrigate Clemans Addition and to provide water to the city of Asotin. A powerhouse still stands along Asotin Creek Road, but is no longer in operation. The water system was abandoned when the city of Clarkston constructed its own municipal water source.
“The powerhouse is all boarded up now, but my friends and I used to play there for hours when we were kids,” Sargeant said. “We hiked all over those hills and played in the creek. It was a common thing to float down Asotin Creek then, and the only thing we had to worry about was those barbwire fences every once in a while.”
In recent years, Headgates Dam made the news again when it was notched to aid juvenile fish passage in Asotin Creek. The construction took about two weeks in 2016, but the project had been in the works since 2008, said Megan Stewart of the Asotin County Conservation District.
“It’s been a challenge,” Stewart said at the time. “It was a long process, but I’m happy we made this happen. It’s important to our region.”
Headgates Dam was identified as a fish barrier to juvenile chinook, steelhead and bull trout and listed as an action item in the Salmon River Recovery Plan. Because of its high priority, Asotin Creek was chosen for a pilot project and funding was provided by the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office.
Access to the dam is through Headgates Park. The conservation district has not weighed in on the potential sale of the property, but Stewart said the commissioners are considering making a formal statement in the future.
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