Blaine boasts several not-to-be-missed attractions for tourists. Sweeping waterfront views, a historical and quaint downtown, and Peace Arch State Park are on top of the list.
Policy changes in Olympia, however, are threatening the vitality of one of these major sites. The news comes at a particularly crucial time with the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics less than seven months away.
Members of the United States Canada Peace Anniversary Association (USCPAA) had hoped – and publicized – that the 12th annual Peace Arch Park International Sculpture Exhibition would be displayed through April 1, 2010 and the upcoming Olympic Games.
The application requesting that extension was denied by the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission earlier this month, said USCPAA founder Christina Alexander. It would have been the first time the exhibit, on the Canadian-American border, was displayed for more than six months.
“We had no reason to believe the project would be denied,” Alexander said. “We thought it was a win-win – a slam dunk – for everyone.”
According to Eric Watilo, the commission’s Northwest region director, the decision was based on policy change, longevity of the display and maintenance to grounds and garden beds that could be required, Alexander said. Watilo went on to cite “an issue surrounding religious displays in the capital rotunda,” which forced the State General Administration Office to review the policies of all temporary political, religious or secular displays on state property, including state parks.
Peace Arch Park’s art installation agreement once fell under a special activities permit. Now it is being evaluated as public displays of political, religious or secular content. This policy change resulted in more limitations and no exceptions for the art exhibition.
“This is a devastating blow to our reputation as a state park and international art exhibition,” Alexander said. It will be impossible to measure the residual impact of the decision, USCPAA member John Choulochas said, but the negative effects on tourism and the local economy may emerge during the increased traffic of the Olympic Games.
“Now the interest will be getting people through the border as quickly as possible,” Choulochas said. “And that means getting people through Blaine as quickly as possible.”
The early sculpture removal is also putting a $7,000 grant awarded to the park by Washington State Tourism in jeopardy. Alexander said the USCPAA won the competitive grant largely because the art exhibition would be on display during the Olympics.
The grant was intended to fund, among other things, an informational kiosk explaining the layout of the park, history of the Peace Arch and gravel walkways between the sculptures.
USCPAA member Ron Leach said everything is being scrutinized from the validity of the Peace Arch to the future of the association.
Alexander said she is focused on the loss. “These opportunities don’t come around often to promote your community or your history.
“An opportunity like this won’t come around again in our lifetime,” she said.