Farragut Park closes door on Bayview

by Madison Hardy
| July 12, 2020 1:00 AM

Residents fear park exit closure is bad news for town’s tourist-reliant economy

Farragut State Park is a prominent driver of commerce for the town of Bayview, but with the closest park exit to the city now closed, residents fear a major hit to their tourist-reliant economy.

For many, the state-mandated quarantine meant exploring the beautiful outdoor areas Idaho has to offer. According to David White, the regional director of Parks and Recreation, Farragut saw a substantial increase in visitors starting in late March.

“We were seeing in April and May a greater increase in day use numbers than what we typically see in the middle of summer,” White said. “With that, we saw a lot of new people coming to the park who didn’t know where our visitor center was, our rules and regulations, and what they could and couldn’t do to adhere to social distancing.”

This influx of visitors prompted Farragut’s Locust Grove entrance closure on April 23. However, park staff had prepared this transition for more than a decade.

White, who became regional manager in 2002, said park leadership posed the idea to merge Farragut Park’s entryways earlier that year and formalized the plan in 2007.

According to White, there were a number of public meetings about the plan, regularly published information in the Bayview Bylines, and an informational notice publicly displayed throughout the park in 2008.

While Farragut Park staff see this change as both necessary and efficient, some Bayview residents feel blindsided by the decision.

Sheryl Puckett, who has led the charge against the closure, believes that if the entrance remains closed, businesses that rely on summer park visitors will suffer.

“It’s like closing the front door to your home and making you go around to the back door,” Puckett said. “It’s not right. If the park is worried about people not paying their park pass, all they need to do is station a person at the East Gate. It’s just that simple. ”

At a Bayview Community Council meeting on June 23, Puckett asked for their support in starting an online petition in hopes of convincing the park that the closure is not in the city’s best interest. The petition has received 731 signatures as of July 10, with comments addressing the closure’s unnecessary nature and the increase of travel time added for residents and visitors.

“This has been out there for 13 years now and just now people are saying anything,” White said. “We serve almost 500,000 visitors in the summertime, and we have attested to the fact that in July and August, Farragut State Park hosts enough people to become the fourth or fifth largest city in Idaho. We have to think about all of them.”

With only eight permanent staff, 25 to 30 seasonal staff, and 30 to 50 volunteers, the closure hopes to better-manage visitors by channeling them through one entrance close to the visitors center. According to Idaho State Parks and Recreation Operations Division Administrator Keith Hobbs, consolidating the entrances provide visitors with better opportunities to contact park staff, improving the visitor’s experience and ensuring compliance with fees and rules.

“We understand that some residents of Bayview may have concerns about a potential economic impact to community businesses. Bayview remains the closest community to Farragut State Park and as such will continue to get a large portion of the business from park visitors looking for supplies and other services the community provides,” Hobbs said. “Farragut park staff has for many years directed park users to Bayview to take advantage of the services offered and will continue to do so.”

Businesses are back post-quarantine, but Bayview Chamber of Commerce President Will Stafford said the closure, COVID-19 restrictions, a lack of Canadian tourists, and the recent cancellation of Bayview Daze have been stressful for the town.

Deb and Tim Zabawa, who own the Bayview General Mercantile, say they have seen a noticeable difference.

“I think the closures put a damper on business because people are more likely to go up toward Athol than here. If that east entrance was open it is maybe a quarter-mile coming down to Bayview rather than eight miles to Athol,” Deb Zabawa said. “Business hasn’t been as good because Bayview is a tourist town, we are about an hour and a half drive from Canada so there are usually a lot of people who come down to use the park. I would say anywhere from 50 to 75 percent of our revenue comes from tourists at the park.”

According to the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, the Locust Grove entrance will remain closed all summer and reopen in the winter — however, it will not be maintained. In the coming years, the park plans to move the main point of entry next to the Farragut Naval Training Station and World War II Brig Museum.

“Currently we are using what is called the south road entrance, however, the Brig Museum entrance is a little over a mile northeast of that, which is actually closer to Bayview,” White said. “It makes sense for that to be the hub of the park, and it is only about three-quarters of a mile from Locust Grove which leads down into the heart of Bayview.”

While the Bayview Chamber of Commerce hasn’t formed an official opinion on the closure, Stafford said the Chamber has a strong line of communication with the park’s managers. To aid businesses, the Chamber paid for two-full pages advertisements of Bayview services in the Farragut State Park brochures and its ‘Discover Bayview’ page.

“The Chamber greatly values our relationship with the state park and the park’s support with Bayview and vice versa,” Stafford said. “We recognize our citizens are concerned about the closure of the east entrance and how it will affect Bayview businesses. We appreciate their opinion on the matter and trust the park will make the right decision.”