Olalla beach is now off-limits

"Tracey Worley is but one of many South Kitsap residents who discovered this week the 30-plus acres of Olalla Bay beach property she frequented as a child are privately, not publicly owned.Today, it's all fenced off, the perimeter dotted with no trespassing signs, and the port-a-potty near the boat ramp has vanished.Closed now is the very same beachfront converged upon anually by hundreds of Fourth of July revelers and contestants in the New Year's Day Polar Bear Plunge - to say nothing of Worley and her family. For almost 100 years the Nelson family kept the beaches open to the entire Olalla community. No problem, then.But now, the liability risk of hundreds of strangers combined with such holiday celebrations is making Marianne Nelson Stewart and her family awfully nervous.Years ago, my parents and grandparents knew everyone who played down at the beach, and it wasn't a problem, said Stewart, the original owner's granddaughter, who recently inherited part of the estate. But times have changed, and these days when I drive by I hardly see any recognizable faces in the crowd.Consequently, the Nelson family decided to close the area off to residents, seeing little choice. The risk was too great not to, Stewart said.It's not because we wanted to close the property, Stewart said. But it's like we were acting like a parks department without the financial resources or protection of a public agency.Before the Nelson family fenced the beachfront, Stewart approached several Port of Bremerton and Kitsap County officials in June, asking them if their agencies could offer her family liability protection, or at least offer to patrol the area on the Fourth of July and New Year's Day.Both agencies said it's against state law for a public agency to insure a private citizen, and neither agency has the resources to police the area at any given time.County officials also informed Stewart about the state recreational immunity law, which could provide protection to property owners if an accident occurs so long as they post warning signs.Left without the desired assurances, Stewart and the Nelson family wondered instead whether the port or the county would consider purchasing the property. The Nelson family hasn't secured an appraisal yet, for whatever reason.It just makes sense for the property to be publicly owned, Stewart said. I haven't been interested in subdividing it or selling it off elsewhere.But in the end, neither the port nor the county could guarantee a purchase.Port of Bremerton officials told Stewart that even if the port's budget was extensive enough to purchase the property, the port - chartered to boos the economy - is expected to make money, not spend it all. Owning the beach would produce zero revenue, port officials said.(This closure) is a real mystery, Huntington said. (Neither) she nor her attorney, nor the family's attorney ever approached the commissioners during a regularly scheduled meeting to make a proposal. I met with her at the property along with (executive director) Dick Brandenburg and (harbormaster) Steve Toms in June. At that time, no formal purchase request was made. This is quite sudden.County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido told Stewart the county might be interested in purchasing the beachfront property.First I asked the parks and recreation department to identify its land acquisition priorities and where they lie with this property, Garrido said. I know that many residents would like to see the property publicly owned, but we need to first carefully plan out such purchases.After a month without purchase or liablity coverage promises, the Nelson family notified the community of an imminent closure by letter.Crews erected fences at the property Friday, as well as several signs indicating the closure..But last week before Stewart - on her family's behalf - installed the fence, Worley, her son and friends took one last peek at the beach, scrounging for crabs, reliving memories and making new ones.It's a shame the owners are fencing it off, she had said. That's why we came here today.On one issue, the port, county and the Nelson family can all agree: All three say they don't want to see the community suffer.We want to see this situation resolved in Olalla because the bay has basically belonged to the public fo so many years, and that resource is so nice for people in Olalla, said Huntington. They deserve that. "

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