Old Man Park caught in tug-o-war

SUQUAMISH — Several parties interested in either ownership or assistance in maintaining of the Old Man House State Park have moved forward in working to keep the park as it is — open to the public.

SUQUAMISH — Several parties interested in either ownership or assistance in maintaining of the Old Man House State Park have moved forward in working to keep the park as it is — open to the public.

Gov. Gary Locke’s recently proposed budget has suggested that several small parks in the state system would have to be cut from the budget and Old Man House State Park in Suquamish is among those on the chopping block.

The one-acre lot that was the home to Chief Seattle in the 1800s is located within Suquamish reservation boundaries at the end of McKinstry Street and overlooks Port Madison Bay.

Two groups are interested in working with the state to either obtain the title of ownership or help the state retain possession while assisting with maintenance and upkeep of the site.

The latter is a citizens organization in the Suquamish neighborhood that calls itself the “Friends of Old Man House State Park.” The group is currently having its bylaws and operating agreements approved by the state, said Lisa Curtis, a member of the Friends.

The group, which was officially incorporated May 21, is waiting for final approval of paperwork that will make it official. Curtis said this step could be taken within a week.

Curtis emphasized that the group is not planning to take full ownership, but would assist the state with maintenance, such as weeding, mowing the lawn and other cleaning jobs. By helping the state in this manner, the Friends will aid the agency in maintaining ownership and relieve it of current staffing costs.

The other group interested in the park is the Suquamish Tribe, which has been trying for more than a decade to obtain ownership of the site of its ancestors.

In the past, the tribe was refused ownership because it told the state it was unwilling to keep the park open to the public once it obtained the title, said Al Wolslegel, the regional director for the Puget Sound region for Washington State Parks. A requirement of state park system when dispossessing parks is that the park must be kept open to the public, Wolslegel added.

The tribe recently said it will keep Old Man open to the public and that it wants to work with the community on developing a management plan, said Rich Brooks, the tribal representative on the issue.

The land was the site of the tribe’s longhouse and ancient village and was lost to Congress 1905 when it authorized the War Department to take over the property when Suquamish tribal members were moved elsewhere on the reservation. Military fortifications were never buit on the property and it was sold to a private buyer in 1937 before the state obtained ownership in the 1950s.

“The tribal members — their ancestors lived there 2,000 years ago. This is an important site for the tribe,” Brooks said.

According to a letter to Wolslegel in April, the tribe state that it would maintain “the site as a park with access to the general public. Future activities at the site would be targeted at cultural, educational and interpretive projects.” The letter continues to emphasize that the site would not be used for commercial or business purposes.

Brooks also added that fireworks and use of alcohol would be prohibited at the park.

The Suquamish Tribal Council has also requested the support of the Suquamish Olalla Neighbors, a community organization that is working to bind closer ties between the native and non-native communities.

While the Friends of the park has invited the Suquamish join its organization, Brooks said the tribe is not interested in working with the group.

He also noted that certain individuals in the Friends group were part of a coalition called the “Association of Property Owners/Residents of the Port Madison Area,” that filed a lawsuit against the tribe in 2001. The lawsuit claimed the Suquamish Tribe did not exist as a federally recognized tribe and its treaty rights, but as a corporation. The United States District Court later dismissed the case.

“We’re interested in working with the community and developing a management plan,” Brooks said. “But (the Friends) told us they don’t trust the tribe and they basically want to see it remain in the state hands. But we are saying this is an important part of the tribe.”

Brooks said the tribe appreciates the efforts of the state maintaining the park but added that the Suquamish is concerned about retaining, if not re-emphasizing, the cultural importance of the site.

Wolslegel said the state is taking its time in considering the options that have been provided to them for ownership or assistance with the park.