Mercer Island parks provide common ground for all | Guest column

By John Hamer, For the Reporter

Do you like – even love – Mercer Island’s parks? Do you walk your dogs on the paths and trails? Take your kids or grandkids to the playgrounds? Watch their soccer or baseball games? Ride bikes, scooters or skateboards? Play tennis or pickleball on the courts? Swim or picnic at the beaches?

Do you believe, as I do, that parks and open spaces are good for the mind, body and soul?

If so, here are two things you can do to help preserve and enhance our island’s parks:

Volunteer with a group of your fellow citizens to help clean up and restore parklands.

Vote yes on Proposition 1 on the November 8 ballot, to approve the new levy for parks operations and maintenance, playgrounds and forest restoration.

I went to a volunteer cleanup event recently at Island Crest Park. On a sunny Saturday morning, we gathered at the head of a trail just west of the soccer fields. Although I have lived on the island for nearly 25 years, I was a first-time volunteer.

Jordan Fischer, who works for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, welcomed us. Nearly 20 people of all ages showed up, from teenagers to retired seniors like me. Jordan explained that we would be removing non-native ivy and blackberries, which spread widely and prevent indigenous species from growing.

The city provided rakes, clippers, hoes and a big bucket of gloves, plus cold drinking water, hot water for tea, and snacks.

We walked a short way down the trail to an area covered with ivy, interspersed with sword ferns, salal, and other native plants. Douglas firs, hemlocks, and big-leaf maples shaded the ground. Some had ivy growing up their trunks, which will eventually kill trees.

Jordan urged us to work in pairs, with one person pulling vines and another clipping or digging out roots. I teamed up with Tom Hildebrandt, another grey-haired volunteer. We quickly learned about each other’s careers, families, and interests. He is a member of the Open Space Conservancy Trust board, but this was his first time volunteering as well. I asked Tom why he was doing this.

“We’re taking stewardship of the native habitat,” he said. “The better job we do at preserving that, the more likely our parks will be healthy for our children and grandchildren.”

I asked the same question of Nate Howard, another volunteer who has a degree in ecology.

“This brings people together to do something to help,” Nate said. “Especially in this post-Covid time, we need that. There’s so much doom and gloom in the news cycle. Events like this punch above their weight. People get a stake in preserving and protecting our parks.”

I talked to several other volunteers, from retirees like me to young teen-agers, and they expressed similar motivations. They all believe that parks are vitally important and want to help maintain them for future generations.

In about two hours, we cleared more than 4,000 square feet of ivy and blackberries. We had come together as strangers but ended up forging friendships while helping preserve a treasured park.

“You went way beyond my expectations,” Jordan told us as we gathered for a group photo. “We accomplished a lot more than I expected.” A barred owl peered down on us from a tree above, and we all took pictures of this wise creature who somehow seemed to approve.

Do you want to help? A series of cleanups are scheduled:

What else can you do? You can vote YES on Proposition 1 on the Nov. 8 ballot. It will provide a 15-year renewal of the current parks levy, which expires in 2023. The new levy will guarantee stable funding for parks operations and maintenance while adding additional funds for aging playground replacements and forest management in Pioneer Park, the island’s biggest open space, plus Luther Burbank improvements. For details, read the statements in the Voter’s Pamphlet and the fact sheet that came in the mail.

Visit and add your name to the growing endorsement list. And consider a donation to help pay for fliers, yard signs and our website.

Passing Proposition 1 will also help build more accessible and inclusive playgrounds such as the newly renovated “Train Park” at Mercerdale, which opened in July and has become hugely popular. I helped encourage that project because I have a special-needs grandson in a wheelchair. I wanted to make sure the playground works for him and other disabled people – including aging grandparents like me! As a result, I was asked by city officials to join the committee to help promote Prop. 1.

Over the past few years, our city government has overseen an admirable process to address the critical needs of our parks: the Parks Recreation and Open Space (PROS) plan was done with extensive citizen involvement. See for details.

But government staff and elected officials need our help. We all have a stake in this. In a world that is often polarized, here is something we can all agree on:

Parks are for everyone. This is where we can truly find “common ground” with our neighbors. So volunteer at a clean-up — and vote YES on Proposition 1!

John Hamer is a retired journalist and grandfather of four. He is a member of the YestoMIParks committee. Email him at

John Hamer is a retired journalist and grandfather of four. He is a member of the YestoMIParks committee. Email him at