Eight years after public access to a popular trout, bass and kokanee lake south of Cheney closed, wildlife managers are still striving to reopen it.
“We are not turning our back on Chapman Lake,” said Randall Osborne, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife district fisheries biologist. “They don’t make lakes anymore. This is a 120-acre lake that has a good fishery in it. And we have not exhausted all of our options yet.”
The newest effort could mean WDFW buys Washington Department of Natural Resources’ land along the lake. WDFW is asking for public input on the proposal, one of 18 projects statewide open to public comment through Jan. 3.
“This is an opportunity to comment on proposals in the early stages of our strategic thinking,” said Cynthia Wilkerson, WDFW lands division manager in a news release.
“Our goal is to protect land and water for people and wildlife throughout the state while preserving natural and cultural heritage.”
The Chapman Lake saga started in 2011 when owners of the former Chapman Lake Resort locked the gates on the only road access to the 128-acre lake. Starting in 2014, Osborne and the WDFW worked out an agreement with the resort owner: The agency would buy the land. In 2015, it received $474,000 from the Washington Recreation and Conservation office for the purchase.
In 2016, owner Gene Kaplan died. During the estate settling process “everything came to a screeching halt,” Osborne said.
Once the dust settled, the former resort land was no longer available to buy, so WDFW started talking to DNR.
Although the only drive-up public access was through the resort land, DNR owns more than 500 acres around the lake. The public can access the lake by foot through that property, but there is no road or boat put in.
WDFW has located a spot where a boat ramp and parking area could be built, but it’s no easy feat.
“It’s difficult because everything out there is pretty much basalt cliffs,” Osborne said. “And that’s what made the old place so attractive because it was ready made.”
WDFW is seeing if the money allocated by the RCO office in 2015 can still be used. If so, WDFW would buy a 22 1/2-acre parcel from DNR and build a parking lot and ramp using the RCO money. The agency hopes to buy or trade for the remaining DNR land.
The proposal is supported by the Spokane County Commissioners, the Inland Empire Fly Fishing Club and the Spokane Fly Fishers. In 2014, when the original purchase was being considered, public comment showed overwhelming support with nearly 200 comments supporting the project. Only one comment was against the WDFW acquisition, Osborne said.
WDFW has continued to stock kokanee in the lake since 2011. This has puzzled some anglers who wonder why the state is spending money on a lake that does not have good public access.
“Ever since the resort closed, WDFW has had high hopes of restoring access,” Osborne said. “And because of that, we have remained stocking the lake with kokanee.”
Unlike other species, kokanee have a lag time of a year or two before they’re fishable, he said. Any gaps in the kokanee population can allow other fish to take hold. With each kokanee fry costing under 2 cents to stock, the benefit of continuing to stock outweighs any costs.
WDFW stopped stocking trout, which don’t have the same development lag as kokanee, after the owner locked the gate.
“We want to make sure this fishery is in place,” Osborne said. “Optimistically saying when public access gets restored.”
For Charles Layton, 75, that can’t happen soon enough. Layton, who lives in Spangle, first started fishing Chapman Lake in 1948 with his grandparents.
“Now, I’d like to take my grandkids down there,” he said. “But it’s closed.”
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