McKinley Park was too much for Metro Parks Tacoma. Most of the 26.71 acres on the steep rise from Interstate 5 to Upper Park Street on McKinley Hill were too overgrown for the park district to restore and maintain.
So the neighbors did it.
With one variation or another, that happens a lot around Pierce County. Parks and recreation budgets can’t keep up with demands, so volunteers push themselves into the picture.
In Midland, they did it at Dawson Park when Pierce County announced it could no longer maintain the picnic shelter, restrooms, walking path and playfields. Neighbors on riding mowers made an early morning maintenance raid, and won back their park.
In Graham, fifth-graders at Kapowsin Elementary School raised some money and got their Frontier Park playground replaced.
In University Place, residents worked the Internet for a recreation prize, lobbied the state for the rest of the money and built the Playground by the Sound at Chambers Creek during a mighty weeklong work party.
In Oak Tree Park, which consists of assorted gulches and wetlands, volunteers wear out their work gloves pulling ivy, planting native species, digging blackberries. You’d think they were goats.
In this difficult economy, people here don’t expect to have the niceties of life handed over with a dainty napkin. They expect to sweat for them.
Over the last 21/2 years, the wooded slopes of McKinley Park have soaked up 15,000 hours of volunteers’ sweat.
The Scheidt family started it all. Larry and Lynnette grew up in the neighborhood the park was built to serve. Their children and grandchildren live there, too, but are too young to have seen what it once was.
In 1901, Tacoma Land and Improvement Co. donated the original 22 acres. It was a showplace of paths, arbors, ballfields and playgrounds. The reflecting pool at its height captured water from a spring and released it into a series of waterfalls.
In 1965, Interstate 5 ate up the park’s bottom 4 acres.
“That ended the visiting of the park,” Larry said.
As the visits ended, so did the maintenance. Ivy strangled trees, including rare yews and lovely dogwoods. Blackberries blocked paths, and views, into the interior.
When Metro Parks finished new sidewalks, a skate park and playground around the edges in 2009, the Scheidts volunteered to take the work inside. They formed Friends of McKinley Park and started work parties. Larry, park workers and police found about 150 people living there in encampments, and told them they’d have to leave.
“We took a lot of knives out of there,” Lynnette said.
“We also took out 550 needles,” she said. “It was not good.”
Generations of Scheidts cleared trails so work parties could pull out ivy.
Danny Patenode, Daryl Leonard, Cadillac Jack Birch and Tony McBeath started showing up every day to work for four hours or so. They tugged brush from the reflecting pool, cleared the spring, filled the pool and, when they found that it held, dug and sculpted waterfalls they lined with river rock.
The water that flows to the base will, over the next few years, end up in restored wetlands to be built as mitigation for transportation projects. The park will lose about 50 feet along the highway, but for the first time in decades, drivers will be able to look into the park.
That work will start soon. Volunteers already are digging native plants out of the danger zone and relocating them.
That’s how they got the ferns they will plant to repair damage at least four young vandals did to the pool’s drainage system this month. The teens smashed pipes. They hurled logs into waterfalls. They netted the goldfish neighborhood kids had put in the pond, and threw them onto the ground.
Surveillance cameras caught their images, and Larry caught them. They have a choice, he said. They can come to the park to work, or they can deal with the police.
He hopes they choose the park. It has something to teach them about hard work – and, against the odds, reclaiming what was firstname.lastname@example.org