King County is getting a new, 5-acre park. It will serve an urban area where residents currently have to travel at least 2 miles to get to open space. It’s coming together in record time, at a site in unincorporated North Highline, east of White Center.
Standing in a small clearing at the top of a forested ravine, Daniel Sorenson with King County’s Noxious Weed program looks up at a huge black cottonwood that he estimates might be about 70 years old. It’s raining, but he’s not bothered. He’s the kind of guy who likes to speak for the trees.
“It’s saying to us, ‘finally! What took you so long?!’” Sorenson exclaims.
The tree has been choked by ivy. Behind it, towering knotweed fills the forest floor along with blackberries and several other invasive species that have thrown the ecosystem out of whack.
But as Sorenson scans the landscape, he sees lush stands of sword ferns and other native shrubs that have persisted. These will be showcased, as invasives are taken out and evergreen trees are planted. A foot bridge will be put in, and an accessible trail system wide and flat enough for wheelchairs and strollers.
“This site has good bones,” Sorenson says. “But we have to deal with all of this ivy first.”
And they have to get rid of trash. Old tires, plastic containers and tarps from an encampment litter the streambanks at the bottom of the ravine.
“A month ago, you couldn't we couldn't have walked on this trail without stepping over mattresses, TVs, bicycles — garbage that the crew took out, " says project manager David Kimmet. "I don't know how many tons of garbage, the first go round.”
Despite the residual debris, he notes they’re making good progress, in a neighborhood where open space is really lacking. This undeveloped parcel in a high-density urban area is a gift.
“This just became an incredible opportunity to meet the goals of our conservation initiative, particularly our urban and our equity component of that initiative,” Kimmet says.
The neighborhood qualified for a new match-waiver program, so all acquisition costs were covered by the county. It's one of the measures that is designed to help provide more open space to underserved communities like this one, where parks are non-existent while poverty levels and health metrics, such as asthma rates, point to the need.
The park will use community volunteers and school kids to help restore the forest. Scott Hicke works at Rainer Prep, a charter middle school down the street from the property. The school has been supporting the park project from the start. He’s already dreaming about using it as an outdoor classroom for science and listing off ideas for the curriculum.
“Invasive species — they could be taking a look at what it means to have to choose between developing one parcel versus another,” he says, as an airplane approaching nearby Seattle-Tacoma International Airport roars overhead.
“There’s a lot they can do,” Hick says. “They can figure out how much carbon is being dumped on us by the nine airplanes that have gone by in the last five minutes,” as well as how much of that pollution new trees in the forest could absorb.
The land acquisition happened quickly, thanks to new King County initiatives to meet health and equity goals, spearheaded by Executive Dow Constantine.
The owner of the property sold the 5-acre parcel to the county after learning that it wouldn’t qualify for a high-density condo development. The deal cosed in May.
The new park is on track to be open to the public late summer or early fall 2021.