Amphitheater could be a winner for park

The News TribuneMarch 31, 2014 

Fort Steilacoom Park isn’t just big. At 340 acres, it’s huge, with a good-sized lake, two expansive off-leash dog parks, miles of trails, a big playground, picnic shelters, baseball diamonds and soccer fields.

What it doesn’t have is a place where area cultural and youth groups can entertain and show movies – a feature suggested in the park’s master plan.

The Rotary Club of Lakewood wants to address that gap in amenities at the regional park operated by the City of Lakewood. It’s proposing to take the lead on building an amphitheater seating up to 2,500 people in the area behind the old barns that once were part of Western State Hospital’s farm. No existing park attractions or major trails would be affected.

The topography of the site – it abuts the hill that WSH’s Hill Ward used to stand atop – would lend itself to a sloped amphitheater looking south toward Mount Rainier. It would be a spectacular setting for a midsummer’s night play or concert. It could even be rented out for big weddings and other private events, bringing in much-needed operating revenue.

Parking exists in several nearby areas. And the park is more than able to handle the demands of large events. It’s the site of Lakewood’s SummerFest, Civil War re-enactments, the Humane Society’s Dog-a-Thon, the second-largest high school track meet in the state and big mountain biking events.

The Rotary Club proposes raising $300,000 toward the estimated $600,000 cost of the project. It would like help from the city, which can apply for grants. The Lakewood City Council voiced its support at last week’s meeting, though it didn’t address funding. The club also plans to seek contributions from individuals and corporate sponsors as well as in-kind donations.

The Rotary Club has a credible track record in Lakewood. It’s raised more than $3 million for a variety of community projects over the past 57 years, taking a special interest in Fort Steilacoom Park, where it developed ball fields and spearheaded construction of an impressive playground. For the amphitheater project, it would partner with a number of other groups, including Rotary Club of Clover Park.

A lot of questions remain about the project; they’re worth exploring, and Rotary seems more than open to addressing concerns. Done right, this could be a wonderful community asset providing yet another way the park serves a broad, regional audience.

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