Lake Roosevelt
Administrative History
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Echoes of the Past: Future Issues

Through more than fifty years of operations at Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area (LARO), a number of issues have proved persistent; some provide continuous challenges while others lie dormant and emerge periodically. Other challenges are fresh, brought on by changing recreation habits, emerging technologies, and new legislation. Future managers will face both old and new issues as LARO moves into the twenty-first century.

Lake Roosevelt currently has five managing partners: three federal agencies and two Indian tribes. While relations have been rocky at times, there also has been great cooperation on lakewide issues, from reservoir cleanup to concessions management. Regional counties have pushed for inclusion in management decisions in recent years, and LARO and the other managing partners will be challenged to find ways to work cooperatively with county officials, within the parameters of the 1990 Cooperative Management Agreement. According to LARO Superintendent Vaughn Baker, relations with tribal and local governments will always be a challenge due to periodic changes in politics and elected officials. "That always will be a thing that needs a lot of care and feeding," he said. [1]

In addition to agencies and governments, LARO also works with adjoining property owners, whose numbers are increasing in response to the rising popularity of Lake Roosevelt. The Park Service has been perceived as autocratic at times in the past, such as during the push from 1948-1952 to approve regulations for the new recreation area. At that time, many individuals spoke out against rules they viewed as overly restrictive. More recently, LARO officials have come under fire for restricting special uses, particularly private docks, within the park. The Park Service has been trying to find a balance between park needs and landowner wishes. "They all feel like we're the eight hundred pound elephant, that every time we do something it impacts them," noted Baker, "but it's usually the other way around. But that's the perception because we're federal. [2]

Initially, the Park Service was the sole recreation manager at Lake Roosevelt, responsible for planning facilities lakewide. The agency worked with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the Indian Zones and with U.S. Bureau of Reclamation in the Reclamation Zone. This broke down in the 1970s when campgrounds in the Indian Zones were returned to the tribes. Since then, both the Colville Confederated Tribes (CCT) and Spokane Tribe of Indians (STI) have developed their own park programs. In addition, the CCT operates concessions on the lake through its Roosevelt Recreation Enterprises. With three parties now working in recreation, lakewide coordination becomes more critical. The 1991 Concession Management Plan is a good example of such cooperation.

The rapid increase in visitation in the early 1990s posed a challenge for all managing partners at Lake Roosevelt. Visitation has since leveled off, but if it rises once again, LARO and the tribes will need additional funding for new facilities. LARO has identified Keller Ferry and Porcupine Bay as popular sites that need additional or redesigned facilities, and the park may need to find more areas for the increasingly popular group camping sites. The alternative - limiting visitors - is already practiced at LARO, where campgrounds are closed when they reach capacity. The 1998 Draft General Management Plan allows personal watercraft on the lake. If, however, they begin to negatively affect the quality of recreational experience for other visitors, the Park Service may decide to limit their use.

Water quality has been an issue at Lake Roosevelt since the reservoir first filled. At that time, pollution on the Spokane Arm was so great that the Park Service decided not to develop any recreational sites there until the river was clean enough for swimming. While the sewage pollution is no longer a problem there, state and federal agencies are now testing the river for possible heavy metal contamination from mines farther upstream in Idaho. Pollution from sources in British Columbia has decreased in recent years but will remain a concern on the Columbia River. The Crown Jewel Mine, at the headwaters of the Kettle River, has proposed cyanide treatment for its gold ore. Although the Washington Pollution Control Hearings Board ruled against the mine, the ruling may be appealed. Another threat to the Kettle River comes from the proposed Cascade Falls Dam, 1-1/2 miles north of the international boundary in British Columbia. [3]

Some natural resource issues have been with the park since the beginning. Noxious weeds plagued the Kettle River area in the late 1940s; fifty years later, the problem is clearly regional in scope. Although the Park Service controls just a narrow strip of land along the lake, it cooperates with other governmental entities to combat a wide variety of weeds. Fluctuating lake levels also have been part of the national recreation area since the 1940s, but they came to the forefront with major drawdowns during construction of the third powerhouse in the late 1960s and early 1970s. While Reclamation and the Bonneville Power Administration used to keep the lake level high during the recreation season, competing demands for water have made this more problematic. In addition to flood control, the lake level is also regulated to fill peak power needs. Another serious issue concerns water needed downstream to aid salmon recovery. The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering drawing down Lake Roosevelt during summer months to augment the flow of the Columbia River in low-water years. This could lower the lake level as much as ten feet below the current minimum summer level. If this occurs, the severe drawdowns will have a drastic impact on recreation at Lake Roosevelt, closing some boat launches like the popular one at Hawk Creek. In addition, the lake fishery would be hurt. LARO Superintendent Baker said that while the park has learned to deal with the annual spring drawdowns, summer ones are "a different matter." Regional Director John Reynolds has warned the National Marine Fisheries Service of the potential severe impacts this action would have on recreation at Lake Roosevelt. [4]

Lake-level fluctuations also affect cultural resources, an issue that has increased in importance since the mid-1960s. Increased lake drawdowns will expose archaeological sites to potential vandalism, especially during summer months when visitation is high. Within the past decade, the tribes have taken over a major portion of the archaeological work for the entire reservoir. Their views on appropriate methodology have not always meshed with the Park Service's view of its mandated responsibilities, and the challenge will be to maintain an appropriate balance between the different perspectives.

The Committee on Problem No. 26 first envisioned the recreation potential of the reservoir behind Grand Coulee Dam. They believed that visitors would come to the new area - and they have. Park Service staff at Lake Roosevelt have guided, developed, and defended the national recreation area through the years as it has evolved into one of the most popular vacation areas in the region. Their many and varied skills will continue to be needed as the Lake Roosevelt National Recreation Area moves into the twenty-first century.


1 Vaughn L. Baker, interview with Nancy F. Renk, 9 Dec. 1999, Tape 2-B, tape and index on file, LARO.HQ.

2 Ibid.

3 Tim Coleman, "A crowning achievement in riskiness," Letters to the Editor, Spokesman-Review, 29 Feb. 200, p. B5; Dan Hansen, "Foes of dam on Kettle River hit dead end," Spokesman-Review, 26 Feb. 2000, p. B5; Baker interview, Tape 2-B.

4 Baker interview, Tape 2-B; Dan Hansen, "Drawdowns may hit lakes," Spokesman-Review, 9 July 2000, p. A-1.

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Last Updated: 22-Apr-2003