Special Reports

Volunteers will shape future of the Point

Sean Peterson’s bad back put him onto what he calls “the lost secret of Tacoma.”

After doctors repaired his ailing spine two years ago, Peterson got frequent exercise on the trails of Point Defiance Park.

“I was getting myself in better shape and getting my back strengthened up,” the 36-year-old North End resident said.

But ruts, gnarled root systems and dropoffs often made the hikes difficult.

So Peterson embarked on a new journey, organizing a fundraiser to help repair the paths of Point Defiance.

He got Metro Parks’ approval for the Explore the Point Hike and Salmon Bake on Sept. 3. But beyond that, Peterson found himself alone. He didn’t know how to enlist the other groups that volunteer in the park. He’s still not sure he knows who all of them are.

Could an umbrella organization – a Friends of Point Defiance Park – coordinate volunteer efforts, provide environmental education for visitors and perhaps raise money or provide political clout?

Peterson and others think so.

“A group like that would be greatly advantageous to the park because it creates one pool of resources,” Peterson said.

Patrick O’Neil, Friends of McKinley Park co-director, agrees.

Residents of Tacoma’s East Side, working with the Metro Parks Chip-In program, helped develop and maintain a vision for McKinley Park because they were all working for the same purpose, O’Neil said. They also raised money for park enhancements.

Similar volunteer groups care for Blueberry and Alderwood parks, Metro Parks chief planner Lois Stark said.

But at an expansive park like Point Defiance, where many smaller groups have disparate interests, “the question is whether all those resources and all that energy is being directed toward a common cause,” O’Neil said.

Metro Parks officials believe the time for an umbrella group has come. But they’ve been waiting to take action until they’re further along in planning for the Point’s future, Stark said.

In Vancouver, B.C., the Stanley Park Ecology Society acts as a dominant force, said park director Jim Lowden, though it’s not an umbrella group.

The organization brings schoolchildren in for tours, sponsors overnight camping expeditions into the forest and provides narrated walks through the park. Its Ivy Busters root out invasive plants. Its Eco Rangers answer questions about the park and its natural history.

To Tacoma’s south, Friends of Forest Park raises money and coordinates volunteer muscle for Portland’s 5,000-acre greenspace.

At Point Defiance, visitors often want readily available maps and more information on the park’s natural wonders.

Urban biologist Michelle Tirhi calls for species counts and suggests viewing points with spotting scopes. Hikers and walkers want trail maps. But no group has provided them.

The private nonprofit Metro Parks Foundation raises money, but its financial support pays for recreation programs across the city. The group, which posted net assets of $182,315 in 2004, is in many ways “a community development foundation for parks,” Metro Parks resource development officer Ken Gibson said. The foundation raised $408,641 through the end of July, but Point Defiance is only one beneficiary.

When Metro Parks questioned about 250 people in 2003, 71 percent said they would support a friends group. A support group, a 2004 study said, “could be an active partner and advocate for the future of the park.”

Kris Sherman, The News Tribune

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