Islanders use and enjoy our parks, trails, ball fields and other “open spaces” in many different ways. Last December, the City Council asked two dozen of your neighbors to serve on a Stakeholders Committee to evaluate the state of our parks and to prioritize a list of upkeep and capital improvement projects. Seated around the table were members from a wide variety of user groups: park and trail users; sports field users (particularly children and organized youth groups); the School District; families of preschoolers; dog owners; and others.
Despite our varied interests, we reached a consensus on important capital and maintenance items for our parks. With the City Council’s input and approval, these worthy projects are coming to you for two votes of approval on Nov. 4.
As the Committee’s chairperson, I look back to how we developed a list of priorities for our parks. For several months, the Committee met to review and discuss reports from city staff, as well as an Island-wide citizen survey.
One of the most eye-opening and memorable parts was when we got out of the meeting room and toured the Island’s parks one rainy and windy Saturday. With the rain pouring down, we saw the mud and ruts in ball fields that make a number of them unusable for many months of the year. We walked the Luther Burbank shoreline, which is being lost to erosion at the rate of a foot every year. We looked upward in Pioneer Park and, in many places, saw not a canopy of healthy trees, but open gray sky, and heard about how storm damage and root fungus are killing our trees.
Not all of the items that we recommended to the City Council require remedial attention. Some projects are small in scope but will enhance our enjoyment and the value of our parks: expansion of swim beaches around the Island; a protected, small off-leash dog area; new trails connecting parks to each other and to the Town Center; new trails in the recently acquired Engstrom Open Space adjoining Pioneer Park; and a contribution to the Mary Wayte Pool renovation.
Each of us came to the table with specific interests in mind, but after working through the reports and touring the Island, we all walked away as believers in preserving and improving our parks for all types of users. The Committee members are people like you, who love and cherish Mercer Island — just a few miles from the heart of a major city, yet incredibly endowed with different types of parks, trails, playfields and other open spaces for a wide variety of activities.
On your ballot are two votes: a parks and open spaces bond issue for capital projects, and a parks maintenance levy, which replaces the Luther Burbank maintenance levy expiring this year and provides funding for upkeep on the capital projects. Together, they are intrinsic to preserving and enhancing our parks. The net cost to an owner of a $1 million home is $95/year, or $8 a month, after taking into account the expiring Luther Burbank levy and another levy ending in 2008.
Whether walking the shoreline or wetlands at Luther Burbank, cheering kids on at a ball field or trekking (or maybe just meandering) in Pioneer Park, we are very fortunate. All of us are caretakers for these treasured resources. Please join me in voting YES for parks.
Don Cohen served as chair of the Parks Stakeholders Committee. He is chair of the Mercer Island Open Space Conservancy Trust Board and former chair of the Mercer Island Planning Commission. He was Mercer Island’s 2000 Citizen of the Year. Don and his wife, Barby, have lived on Mercer Island since 1984. For more information, visit www.preserveourparks.net.