Perry Barrett and Bainbridge Island found each other at just the right moment.
It was 1994, and islanders were not too long removed from saving the first 240 acres of the Grand Forest from development, and were turning their eyes toward Gazzam Lake. Preservation was in the air. Barrett, meanwhile, joined the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District (“Metro” would come later) as a planner with a background in open space and trails.
It was a timely match. “The community had this shared vision that ‘if you don’t buy it now, it’ll go away as an opportunity,’” Barrett said. “That was very much true, and even more true today than even the most far-sighted people could see.”
Over the next 29 years, Barrett would play a quiet but essential role in expanding a modest park system into what it is today. Barrett chased down grants, helped the district through the permit for countless park projects, and brought people together for property donations that expanded parks and built trails to connect them.
“It’s safe to say Bainbridge Island’s park system, really our island environment and quality of life, would look a lot different today, if Perry hadn’t found his way here,” said Mary Meier, Parks & Trails Foundation.
Formed in 1965 to serve all of BI outside of Winlsow, the district’s holdings in 1994 included Battle Point and Strawberry Hill parks, the Manzanita horse trails, and a handful of smaller neighborhood parks. Fay Bainbridge and Fort Ward were still careworn, backwater corners of the state parks system. Future gems like Blakely Harbor and Pritchard parks were barely imaginable.
Barrett’s skillset slotted him into a close circle of park and open space advocates, who worked with parks, the city, the foundation and BI Land Trust to grow the system. Barrett brought in about $17 million in federal, state and county grants over the years, matched by local funds and leveraged by the passion and professional expertise of committed volunteers. A City Open Space Bond in 2001 helped create or expand more than a dozen parks, and grew public shoreline access. Island parks grew from less than 600 acres in 1994 to more than 1,500 acres today, with 48 miles of public trails.
Barrett says he’s most proud to have played a role in creating Pritchard Park. A Superfund cleanup site fouled by many decades of creosote wood-treating operations and mired in the owner’s bankruptcy, the 50-acre property was nonetheless coveted as a park site. The purchase effort stretched to include the island’s Legislative and Congressional delegations, the Suquamish Tribe, the BI Land Trust and Trust for Public Lands, and many private donors.
Cleanup allowed development of the BI Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. The park opened in 2007 and honors the late Joel Pritchard, who served as Congressman and Washington lieutenant governor.
When the point is given a clean bill of health, islanders will get a shoreline park like none other – Eagle Harbor rounding spectacularly into the waters of Puget Sound, with Mount Rainier as a backdrop. “That wonderful view will one day be accessible to the public,” Barrett said.
“Perry has been the heart and soul of Bainbridge parks for a long, long time,” said Frank Stowell, who championed the 1999 creation of Blakely Harbor Park.