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November 24, 2008 · Updated 6:25 PM
Around the Island
It’s changing of the guard for Around-the-Island readers and coming full circle for me as your “new-old” columnist: I left the MIR in 1985 after writing for it for 10 years and went off to news and public relations at Washington State University, University of Idaho and BCC.
I’d known the Island’s inner sanctums for 20 years as a volunteer, parent and reporter. I’d lunched on sandwiches of watercress harvested by Island historian Judy Gallatly from her “secret” MI stream; and befriended Nin Elliot, the Island’s folklorist, to learn our earliest tales. When we left, Nuki Fellows sent us to campus in official Sunnybeam School sweatshirts, which we still wear.
I documented the crash of two planes over the Island, the dynamics of our schools, parks, transportation, government and law enforcement; and featured Holocaust survivors, child prodigies, and people at work, play and in crises.
So, when my husband Bob Hilliard, WSU journalism professor and student publications manager, and I “retired” a year and a half ago, we couldn’t wait to return to our Island. This suburban hub is accessible to lively and lovely things - four of our five kids’ families, among others.
Yet the Island’s changes in our two-decade hiatus were transforming. The north- and south-end “villages” are eclipsed by new condos, commercial buildings, spas, espresso bars, restaurants, storage units and other consumer services. Houses are untouchable for less than $650,000 - average price $1 million+, and the latest “topper” is listed at $40 million.
On the plus side, we acquired some wonderful parks atop freeway lids, preserved 470-some acres of open spaces, and still co-exist with beavers, squirrels, horses, raccoons and nearly 70 species of birds. We have a beautiful new Community Center at Mercer View, a charming and well-equipped library, No. 1-performing school system in the state, and a very low crime rate.
Other “Around the Island” gleanings:
Packs of visiting bicyclists throng to our Island on weekends. In the ‘70s, citizens decided not to approve measures for bike and walking paths along our loop roads. Can someone please remind me of the rationale?
As horse trails dwindle, a $14 plus million two-level Park ‘n Ride lot rises at I-90 and 80th Ave. S.E. Opening of the 450-stall project has been rescheduled from March to fall. Two lit metal sculptures by Julie Berger eventually will create a gateway depicting ships — once the only access to the Island.
It’s about time for the show of daffodils distributed by Coldwell Banker Bain Realty last September. After doling out about 7,000 bulbs a year for 18 years, an estimated 50,000 blooms are expected shortly. Depending on how many got planted “and the number of squirrels who dug them up,” adds CBBA office manager Beth Simpson.
If you visit the north shore at around 5 p.m., you’ll see a spectacular crow show. Hundreds flock and rise en masse to blacken the sky from Luther Burbank along the shoreline. They dip, swoop, sift through the trees and switch directions in their fancy flight. Judy Roan, Island birder, says she too has enjoyed watching them head toward Kenmore at dusk. We marveled at their societal choreography, in contrast to their raucus individual antics in town. (UW Wildlife Prof. John Marzluff says human and crow cultures have co-evolved, suggesting we may share some parallel behaviors!)
Although fewer programs are run by volunteers here as more professionals leave home each day, several mainstay fund-raisers continue to bring in more than $100,000 each year for their causes.
For example the March 25 Rotary Run-Walk to benefit colon cancer awareness will draw more than 3,000 runners, walkers and kid-dashers. Now in its 35th year, it’s still a half-marathon (5k); but a 10-k run has been added so more serious runners may pre-qualify for Bloomsday.
Another island staple, indispensable to locate 9,000 homes or businesses, will be issued the third week in March by women of the Mercer Island Children’s Hospital Guild. This is their 63rd year to bring us The Mercer Island Directory. It’s mystery color won’t be revealed until mid-March.
Enough of my observations. Please feed me your notes on Island life and times at email@example.com