Council endorses 'Joel Pritchard Park'

The “Wyckoff property” is dead. Long live the “Joel Pritchard Park Project and Japanese American Memorial.”

The name endorsed by the Bainbridge Island City Council this week may lack the brevity of the old. But invoking the memory of a widely beloved state and federal political figure and summer islander may help market the concept to state and federal legislators, some say.

“Naming the park after him gives statewide and regional prominence, and some political clout,” said Christine Rolfes, who chairs not only the city council, but also the committee trying to acquire the site as a park.

“‘The Wyckoff site’ doesn’t have a lot of cachet,” she said.

The 55-acre parcel on the south side of Eagle Harbor, once the site of a creosote plant, is being cleaned up by the federal Environmental Protection Agency under auspices of the Superfund program.

Citizens and local officials have for several years been trying to secure public purchase and use once it is cleaned up.

The idea of naming the site for Pritchard has been floating around for some time, Rolfes said, but no one can recall who first proposed it.

Both Mike Ryherd, islander and professional lobbyist who is donating his services to the city, and Kent Whitehead of the Trust for Public Lands say having a name state and federal legislators can identify will make it easier for them to talk about the project in Olympia and Washington, D.C.

Pritchard fills those bills, and then some. He served six terms in Olympia, representing a Seattle district, then six terms in the nation’s capital, representing the 1st District that includes Bainbridge.

He capped off his political career by serving two terms as the state’s lieutenant governor, where he used the position to advocate for better education. He retired in January 1997, and died of cancer in October of that year.

“He was a very well-respected person on both sides of the aisle,” said Rep. Jay Inslee, the Bainbridge Island Democrat who now holds Pritchard’s former 1st District seat.

“While the project has to stand on its own, it doesn’t hurt to identify with a name that people know,” Inslee said. “And it doesn’t hurt that Pritchard was a Republican.”

Pritchard was decidedly moderate in his views, and is best remembered for championing causes not generally identified with Republicans today – gun control, abortion rights and environmental causes.

He is also credited with inventing Pickleball, the hybrid of volleyball, tennis and ping-pong that can be played in small areas – driveways or small beachfront yards.

While Pritchard lived and worked in Seattle at the family printing business, he spent weekends and summers on Bainbridge Island in a Pleasant Beach compound.

The family still owns the property, and members summer there.

Joel Pritchard’s son Frank said the family’s ties to the island go back over 80 years.

“My grandfather bought the property in the 1920s, and it was a summer place for my father as a kid and for me,” said Pritchard, who graduated from Bainbridge High School.

Pritchard said the original compound consisted of buildings from the family construction business that were floated to the island from Bremerton.

“Naming the park for him is a wonderful honor,” he said, “and appropriate considering the long history we have on Bainbridge.”

Technically speaking, the council’s resolution didn’t name the park itself, just the project – an effort to rustle up the money to buy the property from the environmental trust that has been holding it since the Wyckoff company went out of business in the early 1990s.

The Trust for Public Lands is negotiating an option to purchase the land, good through the end of 1994, to give the community an opportunity to come up with the money.

While the exact price has not been set, Rolfes said the negotiations have centered around the $8 million figure developed last year by an appraiser.

“There have been offers and counters, and the hope is to finalize a deal within 30 days,” she said.

The private, non-profit TPL would own the purchase option, but it would not buy the property to hold.

Rather, it would immediately transfer title to the city, the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District, or whatever entity may be established, meaning the money to pay for the property would have to be in hand or firmly assured before the option is exercised.

The preliminary plan is to raise $2 million in private funds, Rolfes said.

The city’s Open Space Committee has indicated that it could allot $500,000 of the $6.5 million that remains from the bond issue voters approved in 2001.

The hope is to get the remaining $5.5 million from federal, state and county governments, Rolfes said.

Asking the voters to approve an additional bond issue to buy the site is a possibility, Rolfes said, but one that has not been discussed while federal, state and county grants are possible.

While Ryherd is working at the state level, TPL was brought in specifically because of their federal expertise and contacts.

“They will provide us with a contact in Washington to help work with Congress on any appropriation,” Rolfes said.

The ad hoc committee appointed two years ago to figure out how to bring the site into public ownership will have a public meeting in mid-March to expand the effort and develop a lobbying approach.

The extreme west portion of the property abuts the Taylor Avenue road end, site of the old Eagledale ferry dock from which islanders of Japanese descent were taken off Bainbridge in 1942 by federal order and sent to a California internment camp.

The island’s Interfaith Council and Japanese-American community want a memorial at the road end, which will require a portion of the park site.

An Inslee-sponsored bill directing the National Park Service to study the site for possible inclusion in the nation’s park system passed in 2002.

Inslee said the park service has named a team leader for the study – “a good sign,” he said – but the bill did not appropriate any money to do the work.

While cleanup work on the site could continue for another decade, the western stretch of beach has already been restored.

Proceeds from sale of the land – the only asset of the Wyckoff Company – will go to reimburse the EPA. Any deal the trustee makes with TPL will be subject to EPA approval, Rolfes said.

The cleanup is expected to cost $100 million or more, meaning that sale of the property will not begin to recoup the costs of cleanup.

Because taxpayers will be stuck with a large bill, many have argued that the land should become a park so that the public can benefit from those tax dollars.

Rolfes expects the issues to gel by late spring, with the city knowing the exact costs of the property, and whether it will get any appreciable state or federal help.

“We’ll have a reality check somewhere in May or June, and have a better idea of whether to break out the champagne or look for another approach,” she said.

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