BI park prepares for major remodel

Also, COVID vax for all parks users?

Strawberry Hill Park is ripe for change.

Seeds are planted for new mountain bike trails, expansion of the dog park, a skate park for beginners, tennis courts, trails, a playground area and possibly even renaming the park.

All of those ideas were discussed at the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Parks District meeting last week.

Parks staff put together the concept plan as a “starting point to see if this all makes sense,” said Terry Lande, executive director.

Dan Hamlin, park service division director, explained the changes, adding a 10-acre land donation next to the park will be used for the bike trails and dog park expansion. The donation was especially appreciated by parks because it came during a controversial discussion over potential bike trails at Grand Forest North. Hamlin said local bike groups are “really excited about this, as you can imagine.”

The dog park would basically double in size. It’s located away from neighbors so there is a buffer. One idea is to break the park up into different sections, so if “it’s too busy in one spot you can go to a different area,” Hamlin said of the fairly new nationwide trend.

Hamlin said the current skateboard park is a “pretty high level for skating and hard for a beginner to get started on,” so supporters of the new one are “very excited, ready to go and not daunted by the cost” for which they will be doing the fund-raising. Discussions include at least parts of it being covered.

Adding tennis courts also would fill a community need. Ideas include putting two new ones near the existing one. They could be covered and have lights for nighttime play. Supporters say they could be an alternative site for ones discussed for Sakai Park.

Hamlin said a trail that would loop around the entire park is another option.

Finally, it’s been discussed for years to move the playground area closer to the sports fields. But Hamlin said that would require long walks through parking lots. While that’s still an option for the future, other sites are being discussed.

Park Commissioner Ken DeWitt suggested putting it up near the entrance to Strawberry Park. “A storage area at the entrance doesn’t really excite me,” he said of the current plan.

Commissioner Jay Kinney asked if any part of the plan could get started on right away.

Because of the land donation, some commissioners said the parks district should get moving on those ideas first. “We already know where they are going to go,” DeWitt said.

Dawn Janow, commission chair, added mountain bikers have been waiting a long time for a facility, but it was also mentioned tennis court fans have been, too.

Hamlin said each part of the changes has committees working on ideas. The district also is working with the parks foundation regarding fund-raising. “There are lots of moving parts. We need to look at this holistically,” he said.

Also to be considered is the old office building, which isn’t needed anymore because they are now located at the Bainbridge Recreation Center. Maybe there is a “better way to consolidate all that stuff,” Hamlin said, adding parking and roads also need to be discussed.

With all of those changes, Commissioner Asaph Glosser said there likely will be more people, which means more restrooms would be needed. He also said a timeline is needed, as all of the interested groups want their park changes now.

All the commissioners agreed a series of public meetings are needed, but Lande said the public needs to understand they are not starting from scratch. “We’re halfway down the road,” he said.

Vaccine requirements

COVID-19 has been around for about two years, and vaccines for about a year, but the park district just started talking about requiring vaccinations for employees and patrons at this meeting.

Lande said a few park employees quit because there was no policy. “We lost a couple of employees because they didn’t want to work if they didn’t know who was or wasn’t vaccinated,” he said. Patrons also are asking more often who on staff is vaccinated. “We’re getting more of those kinds of questions.”

Lande said about 90% of adults and 100% of teens 12-18 are vaccinated on BI.

Glosser said requiring the vaccine is almost a no-brainer with those types of statistics. “90 percent can’t agree on anything” on BI, he said.

Three public commenters agreed vaccines should be required for employees and patrons of park facilities and programs.

“It’s in our best interest,” Caty Kehs said. “Especially for children who have yet to be approved for vaccinations.” She added it’s also needed now as activities move indoors due to weather.

Loanne Harmeling said as a member of a vulnerable community over a certain age she’d like to see staff at the Aquatic Center vaccinated.

Betty Wiese agreed, adding staff could learn lessons from others about exemptions to getting the shot. “You could save yourself some missteps on what worked and what didn’t.”

Kinney suggested the district use the same policy as the state is, with exemptions for medical and religious reasons. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” he said, adding the district has to protect staff and patrons.

A policy for patrons is more complicated because the parks district has so many different types of users, Lande said, adding it would be hard to enforce a family from using a park if they are not vaccinated.

They agreed patrons of parks programs would be easier to require vaccinations for. A big discussion took place regarding sports teams, especially visiting ones. “That could be a real imposition,” Glosser said.

Lande mentioned the local girls swim team has 55 members, all vaccinated. Yet two still came down with COVID. “They can rub elbows elsewhere and bring it back,” Lande said.

DeWitt said all district programs can do what the Aquatic Center does: Take your temperature when you sign in. He said they could have some flexibility, too, such as requiring a negative COVID test if not vaccinated.

DeWitt wondered what power the district has over school sports. “We have the trump card,” Lande said. “Lifeguards.”

Kinney said they know they can’t make people get vaccinated. “We’re not going to tie you down and put a needle in your arm,” he said. But they can decide if you can use their facilities. “It’s just like shots when we went to school,” he said. We have to make sure “everybody is safe.”