The Springbrook community of Lakewood, wedged between Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Interstate 5, is not a part of the city officials point to with pride when trying to attract investment.
Most residents are low-income and live in apartment complexes, where there’s little for children to do. There’s no grocery store. Many residents have no car, and bus service ends at 7 p.m. Criminal activity, including open drug dealing, has been an ongoing challenge.
A relatively bright spot in the area – its only open space – is the 3.5-acre Springbrook Park, with its play equipment, basketball half-courts, youth ballfield and picnic shelter. Thanks to the Springbrook Connections residents group, which organized in 2014, it also has some raised gardens where volunteers show kids that food is grown, not just poured out of cans.
That was an idea inspired by the late Larry Saunders, Lakewood’s first police chief who had lived in Springbrook years ago with his family when he was stationed at JBLM.
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If the community has a focus, it’s the park, which Springbrook Connections members have been working to reclaim from those who have been using it for nefarious purpose.
The group has been partnering with city officials to come up with a wish list of improvements for the park. And now, thanks to almost $1 million from a variety of sources – grants, the city, and local service organizations such as the Lions and Kiwanis clubs – much of that wish list will become reality by this fall. Plus the park will double in size, with new amenities that will encourage even greater use.
That’s huge for this community, which seems so isolated from the rest of Lakewood because it’s on the other side of the freeway. An improved park will make more of a difference here than it would in many other neighborhoods simply because there’s so little else for the residents.
On the way: new, more accessible playground equipment; new walking trails and picnic tables; a second picnic shelter; parking area; and a bridge over Clover Creek to connect the park to an isolated part of the community. Almost 50 raised garden beds will be added, including six designed to be accessible to people with disabilities and two for communal use.
That’s important; the lack of nearby grocery stores means the residents have limited access to fresh produce. The gardens will provide valuable nutrition during the growing season.
Another much-needed improvement doesn’t involve adding to the park; it’s subtracting from the neighborhood. To expand the park, Lakewood purchased property that includes some abandoned houses that have been used for illegal activity, neighbors say. Those structures will be demolished.
Getting rid of the derelict houses and creating new reasons for people to come to the park will enhance safety. That, in turn, will make more people willing to visit the park and let their children play there.
Little things like that that can be a turning point for a community. The city’s investment in Springbrook Park may be a little long in coming, but it’s a good step. Now it’s up to residents to take the next one.