The green necklace: a gift to the city and the environment
February 21, 2014
By Peter Clark
More and more, people within the city are talking about the planned “green necklace.” It isn’t a gift of jewelry to citizens, but many see it as a gift to residents nonetheless.
The green necklace refers to a circle of parks and open spaces around the city, allowing easy pedestrian and bicycle access. It includes Lake Sammamish and the Issaquah Alps in the goal to surround the city and provide interconnected pathways between open spaces.
Though the idea has existed for decades, the Issaquah City Council expressly outlined a plan to create the network of open space in the Central Issaquah Plan, approved in December 2012.
“A green necklace linking community and neighborhood parks, riparian corridors, tree-lined streets, active and passive plazas, and other shared urban spaces, is fundamental to central Issaquah’s livability,” the plan reads. “Connectivity will be achieved by providing easy, safe and enjoyable pedestrian and vehicle connections to retail shopping, major public facilities, open space and other neighborhoods.”
It started with flood mitigation
The idea did not start with such high ambitions. The plan was for the city to find willing sellers of land as a way to maintain flooding along Issaquah Creek.
“Long ago, in the 1970s, it was called the Issaquah Creek Basin Plan,” Parks & Recreation Director Anne McGill said. “Part of it was flood mitigation. It was a plan to get willing sellers out of the flood plain, and just have it as storm water areas and just do restoration on the bank of the Issaquah Creek.”
Former Mayor Ava Frisinger said it also revolved around conservation for some of Issaquah’s favorite seasonal residents.
“We wanted it to be very protective of the salmon habitat,” she said. “To the extent we could buy from willing sellers, we made a commitment to do just that.”
Since installing park space around the city has involved Issaquah purchasing properties from homeowners, the administration has developed a set system of how to handle transactions.
“We sit down with a map and identify a number of parcels,” McGill said. “We literally knock on their doors or call them up.”
She said city officials have dedicated themselves to creating mutually beneficial situations.
“We always work with willing sellers,” she said. “We never condemn.”
She said the city always pays a fair market value price determined by a certified appraiser.
Grants help with funding
The city does not always have the money to afford such ventures, so it regularly applies for grants offered by the county and the state. Still, McGill said Issaquah has leveraged many grants through the city’s established commitment.
“We’ve been very successful,” she said. “King County is very competitive, but there’s a greater chance if you’re adding to a system that’s already there. They’re seeing the city is committed holistically to the health of the ecosystem.”
McGill and Frisinger credited the late City Parks Planner Margaret Macleod for her exceptional skills in leveraging money to get county and state grants.
After building a long list of acquired properties and beginning to convert them into viable open spaces, the green necklace idea solidified.
“In the last four or five years, the term green necklace came along because we started acquiring more properties,” McGill said. “Confluence Park is the biggest.”
Last July, the city opened the park in the middle of the central area of Issaquah, on Northwest Holly Street and Rainier Boulevard South. City officials intend it to serve as a hub for interconnected bike and pedestrian trails, and a commitment to introducing open space into the swiftly urbanizing area.
“It just made sense,” McGill said. “These places should be recreational areas where people want to walk or bike and see the creek.”
McGill pointed out that the green necklace would not consist of community parks only. The city will convert much of it into passive restoration areas to assist in the health of Issaquah Creek and neighboring environs.
“The open spaces are being used in so many different ways and not just by humans,” she said. “It’s layers of healthiness for fish, for frogs, for people. One thing benefits another.”
She had no doubt that present and future residents would appreciate the city’s work.
“I think it’s going to be great,” she said. “They’re going to say, ‘I’m so glad the city of Issaquah bought this.’”
Though much of the green necklace’s growth took place under Frisinger’s administration, she remained humble about her involvement.
“I view my role as one of support and encouragement,” she said, and credited the teamwork of the Parks & Recreation Department, the Development Services Department and Public Works Engineering. “Those people formed a really integrated team. That’s a strong part of it. With our city, we’ve got common goals and everybody was on board.”
A long-term plan
The Central Issaquah Plan, which aims to redevelop the valley floor into a much denser urban setting, describes the green necklace as an amenity to draw visitors and residents into the area. Additionally, it proposes to make the city more environmentally conscious by replacing parking lots with open space.
Issaquah has long stated its commitment to protecting and enhancing the surrounding environment; residents have agreed. In November, a $10 million park bond passed with 77 percent voter approval. Listed uses for the money include $2 million for open space acquisitions and $900,000 to pursue the second phase of Confluence Park. Issaquah has followed that with applying for an additional $2 million from the state Legislature.
As the city continues to grow, particularly through the Central Issaquah Plan, Mayor Fred Butler said the green necklace would serve a necessary role in shaping Issaquah’s future.
“The green necklace is integral to the kind of density we’re looking for in Central Issaquah,” Butler said. “I’m excited we continue to acquire priorities that surround the area. My vision is to continue to look for those parcels that can complete the green necklace.”
The necklace itself, according to the Central Issaquah Plan, is a 30-year plan that hinges on many unknown factors, like property availability and city funds. Still, the city remains adamant about achieving the goal.
“This is making people’s lives better,” McGill said. “It has layers and layers of uses. It’s like we all end up benefitting.”