Picnic kicks off effort to plan parks

August 31, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Like a scene from a spring L.L.Bean catalog, a doe and a pair of fawns peeked from the trees along the creek bank in the fading light.

The deer moseyed from the brush along Issaquah Creek just as the Aug. 26 meeting to plan the future of Tollë Anderson, Cybil-Madeline and Issaquah Creek parks came to a close. The picnic hosted about 130 residents, city staffers and community leaders to start a monthslong process to plan the 15.5-acre downtown parks.

But as the meeting ended, the remaining attendees forgot ideas for trails, a playground and, maybe, a history museum, and all attention instead focused on the deer.

“They were supposed to be here an hour ago,” landscape architect Guy Michaelsen cracked.

The architect and the team from The Berger Partnership jotted dozens of ideas for activities and facilities onto giant sheets of paper. The early favorite: restrooms.

Michaelsen, a principal at the Seattle firm, said participants also offered early support for historic preservation.

“We’ve got history covered,” he said after the picnic. “This park is going to be infused with history no matter what.”

The city and the design team plan to gather input from residents during a meeting next month at Tibbetts Creek Manor and another in November at Pickering Barn. Preliminary designs should be delivered to the city Parks & Recreation Department by early next year. Multiple city boards and the City Council must endorse the plan before ground can be broken.

Reaping history

The former Anderson property includes a farmhouse, a red barn and outbuildings. Gnarled fruit trees dot the old farmstead as well.

Under the terms set by the Anderson family, the city is required to preserve the farm. The design team and picnic attendees said the structures should be incorporated into the master site plan, or long-term blueprint, for the parks.

Susan Boyle, a preservation expert and a member of the design team, said the buildings act as a link from the agrarian past to the present.

“These are not high-style buildings that say, ‘Don’t touch me,’” Boyle said. “These are working buildings.”

The city plans to spend up to $1.6 million to complete the plan and build the initial phase. Issaquah voters approved money to develop the parks in a 2006 bond. City Parks Planner Margaret Macleod also intends to seek grant dollars for the parks.

Michaelsen said the long-term blueprint could change as the city changes during the next 20 years. Elements in the initial plan could be dropped as residents suggest other uses for the parks.

“Now is not the time to be worried about the dollars,” he added.

Conservation rules and strings attached to donated land limit how the parks can be developed, but the architect encouraged attendees not to treat the conditions as restrictions. The parks sit at the scenic confluence of Issaquah Creek and the East Fork.

‘Best public meeting ever’

Mayor Ava Frisinger described the site as “the jewel in the crown” because of the central location and abundant creekside habitat.

The city started piecing together parcels almost 20 years ago for the downtown parks complex. The park bond passed four years ago provided the seed to turn the former homesteads into public parks.

The historical aspect prompted Greg Spranger, DownTown Issaquah Association executive director, to recommend a modern museum to display the collection stored at Gilman Town Hall.

“What use is it if you have a collection and it’s in storage?” he said.

The history enthusiast also called for a stop for the long-delayed Issaquah Valley Trolley across Rainier Boulevard North from the parks.

Other attendees floated the idea of a bridge across Issaquah Creek to connect the parks to Issaquah School District sports fields on the opposite side.

Councilman Fred Butler suggested a more colorful option: a petting zoo — a surefire plan to bring children to the park.

Michaelsen described the gathering as “the best public meeting ever” because participants met outside on a cool summer night to share ideas. The picnic felt like a family reunion, as longtime Issaquah residents downed hot dogs and chocolate-chip cookies before breaking into groups led by members of the design team.

“Your Central Park really isn’t the one called Central Park on the plateau,” he said at the picnic. “This can be your Central Park.”

Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or wkagarise@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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