In the 1950s, the government sold rights to build private vacation cabins in the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area to help build public support for the new recreation area behind Grand Coulee Dam and its hundreds of miles of public beaches.
Twenty-six cabins sprang up in two quiet coves along the Columbia River. “The idea was to get people out to enjoy the recreation and understand what resources were out here,” said Ken Hyde, chief of integrated resources for the National Park Service in Coulee Dam, Wash.
But nearly 60 years later, the cabins have become a quandary for the Park Service. The agency has moved away from granting private in-holdings on federal lands. At Lake Roosevelt, Hyde said the cabins create a “privatized look” on public shoreline.
Each year, about 1.5 million people visit the national recreation area, which includes more than 300 miles of shoreline managed by the Park Service.
In some cases, the cabins have become year-round residences. Leaseholders have cut trees, cleared brush and planted lawns. Twenty-one cabins have failing or inadequate septic systems.
The Park Service spent two years wrestling with the cabin issue. In a recently released environmental assessment, agency officials recommended allowing the private cabins to stay under five-year leases. But cabin owners would have to comply with current Park Service policies to get their leases renewed.
Septic systems would have to be fixed and outdated electrical systems brought up to code. The Park Service would enforce seasonal residency. To encourage restoration of wildlife habitat, cabin owners could get a break on the $4,500 in annual lease fees by planting native trees and shrubs.
The Park Service is taking public comment on the recommendation through April 8. A final decision is expected in early summer from the agency’s regional office in Oakland, Calif.
Efforts to reach several cabin owners were unsuccessful. But in past interviews, they’ve noted that the cabins occupy a tiny slice of Lake Roosevelt’s relatively undeveloped shoreline, which stretches from Grande Coulee Dam north to Canada.
“If you’re cruising at 40 mph in a boat, it will take you 52 seconds to go past the cabins,” cabin owner Eric Weatherman said in a 2008 interview. “It will take you another nine hours and 48 minutes to cruise the rest of the shoreline.”