Lakewood expands 'diamond in the rough' Ward’s Lake Park

City works with county to buy 4 acres to add to park

Staff writerNovember 23, 2013 

Susan Presley and Ron Sabovich have sold their home for inclusion into Lakewood's Ward's Lake Park at rear.

PETER HALEY — Staff photographer Buy Photo

Oasis. Hidden jewel. Diamond in the rough.

These aren’t typical descriptions for storm retention ponds abutting commercial development and Interstate 5. But ask people familiar with Ward’s Lake Park in Lakewood’s northeastern corner, and that’s how they describe the man-made lake and the trails that surround it.

“It’s just a pretty little place. You’d never even know it was there,” said Terry Love, who lives about a mile away.

“Matter of fact, when you’re in the park you’d never even know you’re right up against I-5.”

Ward’s Lake Park is the largest city-owned park in Lakewood, and if everything proceeds as officials hope, it will grow from 22 acres to a little more than 26 acres by the end of the year.

Most of Lakewood’s other parks are between 3 and 8 acres, except for Harry Todd Park, which is 17 acres. (Fort Steilacoom Park is 340 acres, but it’s owned by the state and managed by the city and Pierce County.)

The city is working with the county to buy 4.5 acres from longtime property owner Ron Sabovich to expand Ward’s Lake Park.

The Lakewood City Council recently approved using $200,000 from the city’s surface water management fund to buy the land. The county’s Conservation Futures program will kick in $275,000. The county will buy the land from Sabovich, then deed it to the city.

Sabovich and his wife, Susan Presley, were looking to downsize and wanted to sell the city their land and two residences — a 3,900-square-foot home they lived in, plus a duplex.

The city will continue to rent the duplex and hopes to find a tenant for the home until it has the money to do something more with it. Eventually, the city could transform it into a nature center, park office space or community meeting rooms.

“I’m happy to see it’s going to be a park. And I’m happy the neighbors will be happy,” Sabovich said.

If he had sold it to a developer, the land could have been cleared to make way for 21 homes.

Sabovich lived there for 25 years and regularly walked the trails with his Belgian boat dogs, so he knows the role the park plays in the community.

The lake is a pond that grew when the area around it was developed, according to city records. The body of water serves as a catch basin for runoff from the neighboring Regal Lakewood Cinema 15 commercial complex, Sylvan Park residential neighborhood and I-5.

Trails crisscross the wooded area surrounding the lake; a playground and picnic shelter offer additional active uses.

“You go there and you’ll see family barbecues and birthday parties,” Mayor Don Anderson said. “It’s a great outlet for people who live in the urban environment there.”

The city has $1.4 million worth of projects and improvements planned for the park, including the expansion of trails and the addition of an entrance off South 88th Street. More parking, a dock and family gathering areas are also in the plans.

But the park master plan has been shelved because the city doesn’t have the money to do all the work. Instead, planners expect to complete projects over time and with the help of volunteers, including Boy Scout troops that have already worked in the park.

Buying Sabovich’s land is the last major acquisition the city will do for the park, which it created through piecemeal purchases over the years, said Mary Dodsworth, Lakewood’s director of Parks, Recreation and Community Services.

The city wanted to buy the land a few years ago with the conservation grant match, but the county put the project at the bottom of its priority list. Lakewood planners assumed the money wouldn’t be available and moved on.

Earlier this year county parks planner Hollie Rogge contacted Dodsworth to say there was money left in the fund if the city was still interested. Dodsworth contacted Sabovich and got the green light from the City Council.

Rogge is glad to see it.

“There’s nowhere else to expand beyond this particular wetland; it’s all paved over,” Rogge said. “To be able to preserve this in perpetuity is pretty special.”

Love, who has lived in the Southgate neighborhood near the park for 26 years, was happy to learn about the land purchase last week. He participated in the park master planning process and regularly walks the trails.

“It’s just a nice peaceful place,” he said. “You could walk 15 minutes, you could walk an hour. It’s very small, but by the same token it has a lot of little things in it that just make it precious. Saying it’s a diamond in the rough is not overstating it.”

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467

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