Parks may acquire first four open space parcels

The city is poised to hand over 70 acres of forests and beaches to the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District, gift-wrapped with nearly $100,000 in cash for trails and other improvements.

“I’m very excited,” said parks board chair Tom Swolgaard. “Some are already open for use, but others will need some work.”

The city Open Space Commission recommended the city transfer four recently acquired properties to the park district along with a hefty check to build trails, footbridges and parking areas. It’s the commission’s first batch of lands ready for transfer to the district, said commission member Dwight Sutton.

The Peters property is the largest of the four parcels and covers 50 acres bordering Gazzam Lake Park’s southeast corner. The area is densely wooded with varying terrains; Sutton said he was particularly struck with the property’s dense canopy of trees and secluded groves, far from roads and houses.

“It’s enormously impressive and so quiet in there,” he said.

Longtime co-owners Olemara Peters and sister Allison Peters Jablonko have had been working with the Bainbridge Island Land Trust for several years on a preservation deal. They sold the property to the city for just over $1 million early last summer.

Sutton considers the land’s preservation a wise alternative to commercial development.

“Otherwise it could have been platted and had 20 houses built on it,” he said.

While not as grand in scale, the 12-acre Hall property on Eagle Harbor boasts marshlands thick with cattails and 600 feet of shoreline strewn with pebbles and driftwood.

Purchased for almost $800,000 in 2002, the property is nestled at the end of Hawley Way, only a stone’s throw from docking ferries. The property is also prime habitat for shorebirds and boasts thickets of wild rose.

While the property has been open to the public for almost two years, the commission recommended the park district use part of the proposed funds to build boardwalks over several boggy areas, replacing half-submerged planks lodged in muddy trails.

“It has trails that require improvements and has wet spots that will suck your boots right off,” Sutton said.

The commission also hopes to transfer the hodgepodge of property easements and lots that form the new trail between the Grand Forest and Battle Point Park. Stretching almost a mile, the trail swells and shrinks between 120 and 10 feet wide.

Volunteers hacked out a path over the last two years but the park district will need to make substantial improvements on the trail before it’s passable year-round, Sutton said.

“Some parts are walkable, some parts are wade-able,” he said.

Part of the funding request is aimed at bridging boggy areas on the trail and to trim roots and remove downed trees.

The trail will likely fit the needs of a variety of users. Sutton expects bicyclists and hikers will be able to share the trail. Horse riders also hope to use the trail to access an equestrian arena planned for Battle Point’s southeast corner.

While the Rockaway Beach property is the smallest of the four, the nearly half acre boasts “fabulous views” of Seattle and an undersea playground for divers, Sutton said. The property was acquired by the city in 2002 but has long been a popular destination for divers exploring the area’s deep ridges and rich sea life.

The commission recommended mostly cosmetic upgrades for the property, including trail maintenance and litter clean-up.

Swolgaard expects the proposed $100,000 will fit all the park district’s initial needs for the properties. He is counting on volunteer labor to cover most of the trail work on the four parcels.

“The money will defray materials costs, with not a lot going toward labor,” he said.

The council will take up the funding request and approval of the property transfer in the coming weeks. Council members hinted that they would approve the transfer and funding when decided last week to use contingency funds to meet the commission’s request.

The council hasn’t yet formally approved the transfer or a specific funding amount.

Swolgaard hopes to have the Rockaway Beach property improvements completed within months of transfer while trail and boardwalk construction on the more sizable properties may take “quite a while.”

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