New Central Meadow park in University Place ready to go

Pierce County’s plan to convert a former gravel mine into a regional waterfront park that rivals Point Defiance took a big step forward Tuesday.

At a ceremony at the county’s Chambers Creek Properties in University Place, county leaders celebrated the completion of the 22-acre Central Meadow park. They also looked ahead to the completion of a pedestrian bridge that will provide public access to two miles of Puget Sound beach.

The projects are part of the development of a sprawling park that includes the $21 million Chambers Bay Golf Course and walking trails and one day is expected to have a variety of other amenities.

“I just think it’s one of the most exciting things I’ve seen happening in our state in a long time,” Gov. Chris Gregoire said at Tuesday’s ceremony.

Pierce County began buying property at the former gravel mine in the 1980s and later devised a plan to develop the property over 50 years. That timetable has been sped up under County Executive John Ladenburg, who recalled visiting the site shortly after he was elected seven years ago.

“I remember walking on the beach and thinking, ‘We’ve got to find a way to get this beach open,’” Ladenburg told several dozen public officials and local residents who attended Tuesday’s ceremony.

Ladenburg’s plan involved building a top-flight, links-style golf course to generate revenue. That course – Chambers Bay Golf Course – opened last year to national acclaim and already has been picked to host the 2015 U.S. Open.

The executive’s plan also involved speeding up development of other amenities. Last year the county opened the 2.5-mile Soundview Trail that winds through the golf course. It’s been a hit with area residents.

Now comes the Central Meadow, which officially opens Aug. 10, along with the 6-acre North Meadow park at the north end of the golf course. The Central Meadow will host a concert by folk singer Judy Collins and the Tacoma Symphony Orchestra on Aug. 9. A community picnic is scheduled for Aug. 10.

The meadows offer acres of open, grassy play space. The Central Meadow also includes an amphitheater, and concerts will become a regular occasion.

Lovely as the meadows are, the best may be yet to come. The county will soon begin construction on a $3 million pedestrian bridge over the BNSF Railway tracks at Chambers Creek. Gregoire and the Legislature provided $2.4 million.

The bridge, which is scheduled to open in early 2010, will provide access to a beach that has been closed to the public for more than 100 years. Later, the county plans to build a fishing pier on the beach.

“It’ll be one of the best places in Pierce County to go in and fish off the dock,” Ladenburg said.

Future amenities include an off-leash dog park, an environmental education center, a boat launch and an arboretum.

Including the golf course and existing parks and trails, the Chambers Creek Properties sprawl over 932 acres. By comparison, Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park is 702 acres.

“Now we’re starting to enjoy the benefits of the county purchasing this property years ago,” Ladenburg said.

David Wickert: 253-274-7341