By Tim Reid, Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Commissioners
With so many of us hooked on a sophisticated, technology-dependent lifestyle, we often take for granted essential services that are the foundation of our urban community.
It goes without saying that we rely on publicly available water, sewers, electricity and emergency services. Quality parks and recreation programs are also among the keys to a healthy, sustainable community.
One of the ways we ensure community support is to extend ourselves through collaborative relationships and partnerships with public and private entities. Over the past few years this effort – a way to make the most of all of our tax dollars – has yielded huge benefits: new facilities and additional enthusiastic users.
I’m going to cite just a few examples:
- In 2016, we launched elementary school sports leagues at all 36 Tacoma elementary schools together with Tacoma Public Schools, the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound. Almost immediately, the number of youngsters playing recreational sports doubled as compared to 2015.
- Since 2009, Point Defiance Park has hosted Tacoma’s Science and Math Institute (SAMI). Its opening coincided with a citywide effort to increase Tacoma’s less than 60 percent high school graduation rate. SAMI’s annual rate is between 97 percent and 100 percent, which contributes to the increased graduation rate throughout the city.
- In 2012, we opened Kandle Pool, Pierce County’s first artificial wave pool, in cooperation with the adjacent D.A. Gonyea branch of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound, Downing Elementary School and a Tacoma police substation.
- Last fall, we opened the new pool at People’s Community Center. Construction was funded primarily by the City of Tacoma, which owns the building, though Metro Parks contributed a considerable amount and manages the building. More than 13,000 swimmers used the pool in the first six months after it opened. That compares with a total of 5,000 throughout 2007, which was the last full year of operations at the original People’s pool, which shut down in 2008.
- In 2014, with the help of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and outdoor gear retailer REI, we opened Tacoma’s first official mountain bike trail system on 50 acres in Swan Creek Park.
- Next year, we expect to complete a $60 million remediation and development project on the Point Defiance Park waterfront. It will yield 11 acres of new park land on the breakwater peninsula plus Wilson Way, a bicycle-pedestrian bridge connecting the park to Ruston Way. Support comes not only from taxpayer-approved bonds, but also the ASARCO settlement and state, federal and city sources, in addition to the 2014 Metro Parks Tacoma capital improvement bond measure.
- Right now, we’re collaborating with Pierce Transit and the Point Ruston development to pilot the Downtown to Defiance Trolley with stops at the Point Defiance Park Visitors Center and the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.
- This summer, we’ve begun construction of the $31 million, 55,000-square-foot Eastside Community Center, a public-private partnership on the campus of First Creek Middle School. When it opens, it will more than double the number of youth served through Boys & Girls Club programs in East Tacoma. Building amenities include a pool, a gym, fitness rooms, a culinary kitchen and a sound-recording studio. The project is backed by Tacoma schools, the Tacoma Housing Authority, the city and the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound, plus private donors.
None of this could have happened without the recognition of shared interests and affiliations with other government entities, nonprofits, private enterprises and donors. In contrast to 1995, when I was first sworn in as a commissioner, Metro Parks Tacoma is no longer just a participant but a leader in efforts to raise our community’s profile as a place to thrive. For this, we’ve received well-deserved recognition from our peers.
In 2014, Metro Parks was recognized by the National Recreation and Park Association in its Best of the Best ceremony honoring excellence in park system operations. We became one of 135 agencies nationwide, out of more than 12,000 park and recreation systems, to receive accreditation from the Commission on Accreditation for Park and Recreation Agencies.
And in May of this year, Metro Parks was named one of four finalists (among organizations serving communities of its size) for a Gold Medal award by the National Recreation and Park Association.
This special attention results from the efforts of our wonderful staff, volunteers, and partnerships and collaborations like these. Metro Parks has a strong legacy that we will build on as we continue to make improvements to services and facilities throughout our community.
Tim Reid is a Tacoma native who has been a member of the Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Commissioners since 1995. He is a past board president and currently serves on its Joint Municipal Action Committee and on a joint committee with Tacoma Public Schools.