Opinion

Parks serve the Island in many ways

PUBLIC LIFE

For years I’ve wanted to do something in the public arena, but there was never enough time or the right opportunity. I walk regularly and often found myself in the woods of Vashon. Given my business background in the timber industry, those woods gave me the idea of becoming involved with the Vashon Park District (VPD).

My desire to be an active participant in the community process was intensified by living on this Island. I wanted to do something that would contribute to this community my wife and I came to love in the eight years since we moved here with our daughter and granddaughters. We found a sense of identity and belonging that we hadn’t experienced in many years.

In December 2006, a retiring commissioner pointed out to me that his position would be open and suggested I consider running. We had met through our wives who were members of the equestrian community, another area of interest for me in addition to the parks. Because I had retired I now had the time; this presented the opportunity.

In my seven months as a park district commissioner, I’ve learned a great deal about what VPD does, and it’s a lot more than manage parks. I’d like to share some of my newly gained knowledge with you and hopefully increase your understanding of what a wonderful resource the park district is for all of us.

When I decided to run for office, I made it a goal to visit all the VPD parks. The woods I walk in are actually owned and/or managed by three parties — the Vashon Park District, the Vashon Maury Island Land Trust and King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. King County owns 820 acres, including the largest parks on the Island — Island Center Forest (372 acres) and Maury Island Marine Park (321 acres). The land trust owns several parcels totaling 386 acres, including the 141 acres associated with Fisher Pond and 79 acres that comprise the Shinglemill Preserve. The park district is the smallest public land owner, with 18 parks encompassing approximately 260 acres. However, the services provided on these acres are numerous. Ober Park and the Village Green are two examples of relatively small parcels providing an environment for a range of activities.

VPD owns parts of the lands and facilities used for its programs. Some lands are managed in partnership with the land trust. Some facilities are provided through an interlocal agreement with Vashon Island School District. This agreement allows VPD to manage all non-school activities using school facilities which include athletic fields, gyms and the Vashon High School auditorium. These facilities, after school hours, are referred to as the Vashon Commons. VPD schedules activities at the facilities and provides access. It also provides maintenance on the fields to offset wear and tear caused by non-school activities. It is noteworthy that VPD’s new fee policy allows Island nonprofits free use of the facilities it owns or manages.

In addition to parks and facilities, VPD provides the administrative and financial management resources to user groups for registration, fee collection and bill payment for a wide range of activities and events. This is no small service, since participation in each group can number in the hundreds and the transactions involved are multiples of the participation.

VPD, often in collaboration with other organizations or local businesses, provides free programs for the community’s enjoyment. These include concerts in the park — Ober Park Thursday evening concerts, Monday night and noon concerts at the Village Green as well as theater and other artistic endeavors.

This year VPD purchased the kayak rental business at Jensen Point to ensure Islanders and non-Islanders can continue enjoying the kayak experience. Also this year, VPD renovated the Belle Baldwin house at Fern Cove to create another unique rental property in addition to the existing historic keepers’ quarters rentals at Point Robinson.

All of this is accomplished with a staff of only 11 full-time and three part-time people for just under $1 million a year.

I hope this gives you a better perspective on all the VPD provides for this Island. I am very impressed by the large number of Islanders who volunteer to provide the events and activities. I’m also impressed with the professionalism and wonderful attitude of the VPD staff.

Please visit the Web site at www.vashonparkdistrict.org to keep current on what is available to you. And thank you for giving me this incredible experience.

— Mike Collins is a park commissioner, retiree and grandfather.

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