Standing beneath a covered picnic shelter at Springbrook Park last week, a group of neighborhood activists talked excitedly about the city of Lakewood’s plans to invest close to $1 million in the park.
The infusion of cash will allow the city to more than double the size of the park, making way for more room for walking trails, picnic tables, a second picnic shelter, new playground equipment and significant expansion of the community garden.
The project is a long time coming for volunteers who have worked for years to restore a sense of community to one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
It’s also welcome news to newly formed Springbrook Connections. Springbrook residents comprise the group that was formed in part to build and maintain a handful of raised garden beds in the park.
Volunteers use the garden to teach Springbrook children about where food comes from, but the garden has had a larger reach.
Neighbors say it has unified the community, bringing more people to the park that was once considered off limits because it was a hotbed of criminal activity.
The park was formerly “a place where people went to get high, to get laid or to get drunk,” said Alyce Brame-Galyean, who lives within walking distance of the park and is a founding member of Springbrook Connection.
“When we first moved out here we used to hear gunfire two to three times a week, easily,” she said. “I can’t tell you the last time I heard it. If we do hear gunfire, it’s on the other side of Springbrook, it’s not around here.”
They are really committed to the park and the neighborhood and they have really worked on making sure it’s a safe place.
Mary Dodsworth, director of Lakewood Parks, Recreation and Community Services
Springbrook Connections members have fought to reclaim the park since the group formed in 2014.
That effort has included working with city of Lakewood officials to create a wish list for park improvements, many of which will now get done.
“We’ve worked really hard to try to build that sense of stewardship in that neighborhood,” said Mary Dodsworth, Lakewood’s Parks, Recreation and Community Services director.
“They are really committed to the park and the neighborhood and they have really worked on making sure it’s a safe place.”
Planned park improvements include replacing the playground equipment with equipment accessible to people of all abilities, restoring the Clover Creek shoreline and building a bridge over the creek to provide pedestrian access to the park from an isolated area of Springbrook off 47th Avenue Southwest.
Work is set to begin in the spring with the demolition of two dilapidated buildings next to the park. The buildings have become popular with drug addicts and squatters, according to neighbors.
The park will remain open while the work is done. When everything is finished in the fall, the once-undistinguished park will be unrecognizable, according to Dodsworth.
Brame-Galyean and boyfriend James Yastrum moved to Springbrook because of their work at The Food Connection’s mobile food truck that operates in the neighborhood.
Outgoing and engaging, the pair have built trust among neighbors.
They and other Springbrook Connections members have also become a bridge between the community and city officials and have forged friendships with members of civic organizations like the Lakewood First Lions Club.
Planned park upgrades include doubling its size, adding walking trails, a parking area, installing new playground equipment for all abilities and growing the community garden space to roughly 50 raised beds, including two large communal beds. A bridge will also be built over Clover Creek to connect an isolated section of the neighborhood with the park.
The Lions Club hosts events in the park and years ago set aside money for the city of Lakewood to use for park improvements, said president DeAnne Bennett.
“This was once a military community. I lived here in 1969,” Bennett said from the park last week. When she returned years later Bennett said she was “appalled” at Springbrook’s transformation.
Once a neighborhood where military families lived, Springbrook has since become a place where daylight drug deals are the norm and gang activity has left people fearful to leave their homes, residents say.
Wedged between JBLM and Interstate 5 on Lakewood’s east side, Springbrook is home to some of Lakewood’s poorest residents.
Isolated from the rest of Lakewood by the freeway, Springbrook has no grocery store or access to services. Many residents don’t own cars, and public transit doesn’t come to the area after 7 p.m.
The 3.5-acre park is the only open space in the community. It has a full soccer field, playground equipment and basketball hoops but has seen few improvements since the city acquired it 20 years ago during incorporation.
The majority of the $970,000 the city is spending on the park improvements comes from grants. The city is providing roughly $190,000 in matching funds. Other donations have come from civic groups like the Lions and Kiwanis clubs, Dodsworth said.
The community garden expansion will add close to 50 beds to the park. That’s a significant improvement from the handful of raised beds and fruit trees now at the park.
Springbrook Connections members are excited about what the expansion will mean for the core group of roughly 14 children that have helped maintain the gardens.
People are walking the park again, people are walking their pets in the park, kids are playing in the park.
Alyce Brame-Galyean, Springbrook Connections member
“A lot of these guys don’t know what a garden is — they’ve never seen one,” said Brame-Galyean, noting many Springbrook children live in apartment complexes without lawns. “As far as they know, this kind of stuff all comes from the grocery store.”
Six of the new beds will be accessible to people with disabilities. There will also be two longer beds dedicated for communal use.
Children will take home the produce they grow and any extra will be distributed by the mobile food truck.
As they shared stories beneath the park’s picnic shelter last week, the group of community activists also talked about the role Lakewood’s first police chief Larry Saunders played in establishing the gardens.
He came up with the idea for the gardens and knew the community had to buy in from the start for them to succeed. He persuaded Brame-Galyean to take the lead and get neighbors signed up to help.
The late police chief once lived in Springbrook with his family while stationed at JBLM. Saunders and his wife Sally kept a soft spot in their hearts for the community, said longtime friend and Lions Club member Diane Formoso.
“He and Sally adopted Springbrook Park because there was nothing there,” Brame-Galyean said.
That is no longer the case.
“People are walking the park again, people are walking their pets in the park, kids are playing in the park,” Brame-Galyean said. “It’s not perfect, it still has a long ways to go, but it’s come a long way.”