All Washington State Parks were free and open to the public last Monday in celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, drawing hundreds of families to Saint Edward State Park in Kenmore.
Children crawled through wooden play structures, parents talked while sitting at picnic tables and couples strolled through the park, taking in the views and atmosphere of the surrounding serene woodland and aging seminary building at the heart of the park.
On the western edge of the park, however, a wide open field with a baseball field sat noticeably vacant. Following days of rain during an exceptionally wet winter, the long grass concealed a mire of thick mud, turning a walk across the field into a trudge, with dark puddles filling sinking ground behind the backstop. Welcome to the Saint Edward State Park baseball field.
But if a plan being developed by the city of Kenmore is implemented, this field could get a dramatic makeover.
“We are looking at rehabbing those fields, there are two fields there, and we are just looking at bringing them up to standards,” said Kenmore Mayor David Baker. “From the number of people that we’ve heard on the ballfields, and of trying to restore them and maintain them the way they should be maintained, I think the public is overwhelmingly in favor of that.”
During the Jan. 11 Kenmore City Council meeting, city staff presented an outline for creating two baseball fields, overlaid with two more soccer fields and a cricket field on the current field.
This would serve various youth athletic organizations in Kenmore, many of whom currently use a couple soccer and baseball fields at Bastyr University, or fields at area schools. Residents who addressed the council said many of them end up traveling all around the Northshore region for their children’s sporting events.
“I drive from Kenmore, to Bothell, to Woodinville and further almost every weekend, and multiple nights a week almost year round, and having adequate sports fields in Kenmore really has an impact on us parents,” Northlake Little League board member Cody Painter said. “It’s an economic thing.”
Chandler Symons is the Kenmore president of the Northshore Youth Soccer league, which serves around 1,200 kids. He also addressed the council.
“I think resurfacing the fields and making the fields improved would be a great thing, I think it would be a great thing for our city,” he said.
Restored sports fields at the state park have been in the works for around a decade after the Washington State Parks Classification and Management Planning Project (CAMP) finalized a draft of the Saint Edward State Park Management Plan in 2008. Kenmore Councilman Brent Smith was on that board, and has advocated for restoring the current field instead of creating a new one elsewhere.
“We’ve got a ballfield site that’s underutilized, and it’s unsafe because it hasn’t been properly maintained,” he said. “It makes a lot more sense to rejuvenate that field and make it a safer, more functional site.”
In the management plan, rejuvenating the park came with some recommendations and guidelines, including a preference for natural grass fields, wetland impact mitigation and ensuring the field doesn’t disproportionately impact other uses of the park.
Smith said that while the fields are flanked by wetland to the south and southeast, the field configuration the city is proposing will have minimal impacts on the wetlands, but some mitigation would be necessary.
“This has been scaled back just a bit to have fewer environmental impacts,” he said.
During a city staff presentation to the council, estimated costs of rehabilitating the fields was pegged at around $1 million, and to be budgeted as a new development.
The fields are currently owned by Washington State Parks, and a lease contract would have to be approved, allowing the city to maintain and use the fields.
The project has its detractors. Peter Lance is a neighbor to the park, and said he already sees heavy traffic on the two-lane access road and limited parking.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to overdevelop this already busy park,” he said. “I think for this small park, even though it is 300 acres, it’s not 300 acres of flat, useable, rolling fields. I really think this property should be respected and used only for park purposes, park patrons.”
Tom Fitzpatrick is part of a grassroots group called Citizens for Saint Edwards, and served on the CAMP citizen advisory committee a decade ago. While he said he’s less concerned with enhancing ballfields than a proposal by a real estate developer to turn the seminary building into a resort, he thinks there are better options.
“There’s been more capacity for the ballfields up on the Bastyr part of things than at Saint Edwards,” Fitzpatrick said.
According to Fitzpatrick, the fields were created for the seminary in the 1930s on top of existing wetlands, and consequently have trouble draining water. Bastyr’s fields are slightly higher and drier, he said.
The city has an agreement with Bastyr to use their sports fields for youth sports.
However, since Saint Edward is one of Washington’s most visited state parks, Baker believes enhancing the fields will provide area residents more recreation opportunities on public lands as well as protecting cherished features like the miles of hiking and biking trails on the park.
“We certainly would not affect any of those trails,” he said. “That’s a tremendous asset to the whole region, and we want to see those enhanced.”
City staff is currently working on a proposal to send the State Parks Commission for approval, after which more solid plans will be created.