A long-awaited groundbreaking Tuesday marked the beginning of efforts to create a natural sanctuary at Mountlake Terrace’s 16-acre Ballinger Park.
Among those attending were 32nd District State Reps. Cindy Ryu and Lauren Davis and State Sen. Jesse Salomon, and representatives from the offices of U.S. Reps. Rick Larsen and Suzan DelBene, both of whom couldn’t be present due to debt ceiling negotiations in Washington, D.C. Also on hand was Col. Alexander “Xander” Bullock, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers Seattle District, which is overseeing and directing project construction in partnership with the City of Mountlake Terrace.
The $5.5 million project aims to transform the former nine-hole golf course — known to local golfers for cheap green fees and soggy fairways littered with goose droppings — into a natural area with wetlands, riparian corridors, natural vegetation, habitat for birds, fish, turtles and amphibians – and hopefully someday to support salmon runs. A large piece of the funding ($3.4 million) comes from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill; the remainder comes from state and local sources, including $1 million from the Washington State Legislature.
But it’s more than wildlife habitat – the project is for people too.
“Parks establish and maintain quality of life in the community,” said Mountlake Terrace Recreation and Parks Director Jeff Betz. “All great cities have an active parks system, and recent studies show that 83% of adults surveyed place a high value on their public parks for walking, exercising and experiencing the calm and restoration that come from being in a natural area.”
Betz went on to explain how in 2015, the city adopted a new parks master plan to incorporate native plants, trails and boardwalks, enhance wetlands and create new open space to protect critical habitat and become a destination regional park.
“And that’s what we have here today,” he added. “These improvements will provide significant habitat for migratory birds and native amphibians. In addition, Hall Creek runs right through the park and planned work by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to remove a series of culverts that currently block salmon migration from Lake Washington could restore historic Hall Creek salmon runs. Imagine observing wild salmon spawning right here in the park!”
The work is being planned and conducted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as part of its mission to work on infrastructure projects on behalf of the federal government.
“The Army Corps of Engineers plays a key role in protecting the environment for everyone,” remarked Bullock. “This project is good for the community, and I’m proud that the corps will have an outsized impact on an effort that will touch this community deeply. What we do here today means that our children and grandchildren will be able to walk through the park, experience nature, the animals, and the clean water that will run through this newly formed riparian area. It’s a precious thing, and I’m proud that we can be a part of it.”
Last to speak was Laura Reed, the city’s stormwater program manager, who is managing the project for the City of Mountlake Terrace.
She described how when the city first started working with the corps on this project, some were concerned that Mountlake Terrace was too small, and that the corps would take over.
“Happily that was not the case,” she said. “The corps has been great to work with. They listened to and respected our input, and this project is truly a team effort. It took many hands to launch this project.”
Reed went on to point out that the project will be shifting into high gear this summer and fall, as the corps plants more than 2,000 native trees and shrubs, redirects Hall Creek to a new, more-stable channel, and constructs boardwalks, trails and footpaths.
“The number of places animals can call home is shrinking,” she concluded. “This project switches that dynamic and provides more homes for these creatures. Five years from now this park will be full of birdsong, the creek will have otters and maybe even salmon. It will be a place to experience nature right here in the neighborhood, a place where the sounds of the city will fade away.”
Learn more and follow updates on the Ballinger Park Aquatic Ecosystem Restoration Project at the project website here.
— Story and photos by Larry Vogel