The Washington State Park officials are seeking input from the public as the fate of remains at a standstill.
State Park Ranger Tom Pew said the park is under an "elevated risk situation" as he pointed out some of the park's imminent issues during a recent guide, which included local officials and residents.
In May the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission announced an emergency closure of Kopachuck's campground due to a widespread infestation of a tree pathogen, laminated root rot, in the forest. According to Natural Resources Stewardship Chief Dr. Robert Fimbel, one of the pathogen's primary hosts is the Douglas fir, which accounts for a large portion of the campground.
The trees at the park range anywhere from 100 to 200 years old, and like humans, the trees' immune systems begin to deteriorate as they age.
"We all carry various diseases on us, but it's such low levels that our immune system keep them suppressed," Fimbel said. "Here, these trees are weak, and they are succumbing at a very rapid pace. We have an epidemic."
Park officials said the pathogen spreads through the root system, and with the park's dense population of Douglas fir, they are finding an increasing number cases of infected trees.
"We would look for signs and start digging into trees, and we found very few areas that we could not identify (as having) the presence of the pathogen," Fimbel said.
Fimbel said the agency is currently considering several options to tackle the issue; the most aggressive is cutting down all the Douglas fir in the park. The least invasive option is to shut down the park as a campground.
Steve Brand, the Southwest Region Director of State Parks, said having people stay at the park for extended periods of time puts them at a higher risk of damage if a tree was to fall.
Officials are taking precautionary steps in light of the Olalla woman who was killed in 2004 after branches of a dead pine tree in Lake Wenatchee fell on her and barely missed her 2-year-old daughter.
"There are a lot of risks to just continue business as usual," said Fimbel. He said the only way to terminate the pathogen is to take away its food source by removing the trees.
"We could cut all the trees down now, but it wouldn't be until the end of the summer before we have the park in a usable condition anyway. It would still be a mess," said Brand.
He said before the trees can be removed, the State Parks and Recreation Commission must make arrangements to sell the timber. If the felled trees were left in the park, they would attract bark beetles (which are already present at the park). The next commissioner's meeting is set for August in Wenatchee.
While officials will wait until the public meeting on June 22 to make any decisions, Fimbel did acknowledge the importance of the trees for the community.
"People are attached to the aesthetics," he said. "These trees do create certain habitat, and by removing them, those are definite impacts people can see."
Rep. Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard), who knows about laminated root rot from her time as the Kitsap County Commissioner, said cutting down the trees may not be a bad idea in the long run.
"When we did take the trees out, it created a much healthier forest … and grows much faster because sunlight gets to them," she said.
However, Angel shared her concerns with the nearby businesses that rely on campers buying firewood, ice and groceries during the summer camping season.
"Our small businesses right around the park are suffering right now," she said.
According to Brand, Kopachuck's camping revenue will not be the determining factor of the fate of the park.
"I think our parks are going to be more important to our families," Angel said. "(Kopachuck) is a part of us. It's part of our community, and we want a healthy forest."
The agency will be hosting a public meeting on June 22 at Kopachuck Middle School from 6 p.m. If you have any questions, contact Lisa Lantz at 360-725-9777 or firstname.lastname@example.org.