Benton County commissioners OK Crow Butte Park investment

Kristi Pihl, Tri-City HeraldMay 10, 2014 

Benton County will help the Port of Benton pay for a few more years of capital projects at Crow Butte Park near Paterson.

County commissioners recently agreed to invest $50,000 in the park this year and $25,000 each year in 2015 and 2016.

The port stepped up to take over management of the park, owned by the Army Corps of Engineers, in 2007 after a volunteer group of farmers who had managed the park for several years asked Benton County for help because the park was struggling financially.

The county agreed to help the port by providing matching dollars for capital projects, said Scott Keller, the port's executive director. The agreement for $50,000 a year expired last year, but port officials asked the county to help for a little longer.

What once was a rundown park has been restored to a frequently used gem. "We've got everything pretty well caught up," Keller said.

The port has spent more than $1 million in capital projects since it took over management of the park in 2007, said Stuart Dezember, the port's finance director and auditor. More than $750,000 was from port funds.

The park, on a 1,500-acre island in the Columbia River 12 miles west of Paterson on Highway 14, features a campground with 54 RV spaces that are full most of the summer. The RVs can hook up to electricity, sewer and water. There is also a swimming area and a marina.

More than 14,000 vehicles used the RV campground last year. About 2,000 used the boat launch. More than 1,100 cars used the day park.

Crow Butte was recently ranked the top campground in the state out of 100 campgrounds by Tripleblaze, a camping and hiking website. The rankings were based on reviews and wish lists submitted by the website's users.

"It's a great asset for that part of the county," Keller said.

For this year, the county dollars will help the port finish a gazebo roof and match grant funds that paid for a $720,000 improvement project.

Construction recently finished on that project, which involved 12 new boat slips, widening the boat launch and adding a fish-cleaning station and restrooms at Crow Butte Park marina. Park visitors are already volunteering positive feedback about the new and improved amenities, Keller said.

The port hasn't identified which capital projects the county funds will be spent on next year and the year after.

The port also has applied for a state grant to install 12 more boat slips and a full-fledged playground. Keller isn't sure what the odds are for getting the grant, but the port may hear this summer, he said.

Both of those projects are part of the park's 20-year master plan, which was recently updated. Also on the wish list is expanding the popular RV campsite, fire pits at the RV campsites and a multi-use paved pathway.

The port hopefully will see revenue grow with more use as improvements are made to the park, Keller has said. The port receives about $100,000 to $150,000 a year in revenue from the park.

-- Kristi Pihl: 582-1512; kpihl@tricityherald.com

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