There was a time not long ago when people avoided Springbrook Park, located in one of Lakewoods poorest neighborhoods.
Crime and drugs were rampant in the area neighboring McChord Air Field. Residents of the older apartments and mobile homes surrounding the park often stayed inside.
The problems havent disappeared, but people who volunteer or work in the Springbrook area say theres a growing sense of community that has prompted kids and adults alike to venture outside, talk and play with neighbors and reacquaint themselves with the park.
And the park will expand with it. The Lakewood City Council recently approved buying neighboring land to increase the parks size by one-third. Its a parcel of land that the city first attempted to buy before it built the park a dozen years ago.
The park is going to be huge, said Alyce Brame-Galyean, who has lived down the street for four years. Its the last refuge out here where something really positive can happen behind people just caring about each other.
Brame-Galyean and her longtime boyfriend, Jim Yastrum, moved to the area in large part due to the relationships they developed with residents while making weekly deliveries on the mobile food bank organized by Tacomas St. Leo Church.
When Brame-Galyean moved in, she heard gunshots every night coming from or near the park. Theres less gunfire, crime and drugs now, she said, and the neighborhoods relationship with police is improving. She also has noticed more interaction between whites, blacks and Hispanics.
Hispanics make up more than half of the neighborhoods population of about 4,500 people, said city Parks and Recreation Director Mary Dodsworth, while 80 percent of residents live at or below the federal poverty standard.
She said Springbrook Park provides a community-gathering place and an outlet for families who cant afford to pay for recreation.
The Lakewood First Lions Club has supported the area for about a decade. It organizes an Easter egg hunt at the park and has donated back-to-school supplies and Halloween costumes for kids.
Over the years, residents that were at first reluctant now have a desire to become more involved, said Sally Saunders, a Lions Club member.
Theres no better example of this change than the community garden. In May, with help from other groups, the Lions Club planted the garden in the park to promote healthy eating, provide a fun activity for children over the summer, and build community cohesion.
I think its going to be so wonderful, Saunders said of the expanded park. Were all really excited to see that. I just think that will open up a lot of doors for the people there.
Gail Conelly also has noticed a change. Shes a Lakewood community service officer who works with residents and apartment owners to prevent crime and root out blight.
The neighbors are finally starting to use the park more, she said. Theyre feeling more comfortable.
Lakewood purchased two parcels of land in the late 1990s, shortly after the city incorporated, and dedicated the new park in 2001, Dodsworth said. It includes a childrens play structure, picnic tables, two half-court basketball courts and a baseball diamond.
On the newly acquired third parcel, the city must remove a 1940s-era house and detached garage before it can take down a fence and open it to the public, Dodsworth said. It will take about four months, she said.
Once thats done, First Lions Club plans to construct a cover over the basketball courts. Short-term plans also call for placement of a soccer field over the baseball diamond for dual use.
Longer-term plans call for a pedestrian bridge over neighboring Clover Creek so residents in that isolated area have better access to the park. The city owns 2 acres on the other side of the creek for another future park expansion when the bridge is built. For now, the city uses the property as a public works yard.
Lakewood bought the property its developing now through a short sale for $134,300. Two Lakewood service organizations, Partners for Parks and the Lakewood Community Foundation, chipped in $22,500. The city paid the balance from stormwater fees, but its seeking grant funding to reimburse half the cost.
Volunteers organized a recent work party that removed more than eight tons of garbage and a shed from the property. The free work was valued at $1,200.
Before the council vote Nov. 5, Councilman Paul Bocchi praised the community groups for raising money to acquire park land in a neighborhood most of their members will never drive through, let alone live in.
I dont want it to go unnoticed that theres a very important element of civic pride in this purchase, he said. Not only is it a valuable purchase to expand a park and protect a creek, but it really is another sign of the civic spirit here in Lakewood.
Christian Hill: 253-274-7390