Dreams for Island recreation site start to take shape

Skaters, bikers and disc golfers are one step closer to having their dream park in Burton, after the Vashon Park District hired an Islander and landscape architect to put their ideas to paper.

Jim Gerlach, of Anderson Landscape Architects, has already sketched out a rough plan of what the park, called Burton Adventure Recreation Center (BARC), might look like.

He’ll present the designs, and take input on how to proceed with them, at a 10 a.m. meeting Saturday, Nov. 1, at the park.

BARC, on the site where Burton Elementary School once stood, is today rustic by most standards. Burton Indoor Skate Park, in the elementary school’s old gym, is the most-used portion of the property, which the park district leases from Vashon Island School District.

Other than a parking lot, the rest of the park’s 9.5 acres, west of Vashon Highway and north of S.W. 228th Street, is undeveloped.

It was overrun by scotch broom and blackberries until park stewards and employees worked to remove them earlier this year. A few man-made BMX jumps take up a small portion of the park, and disc golf targets dot the sparse landscape.

But community members have been meeting for more than a year to share ideas about what they want BARC to become.

They’d like the park to continue being a skating, disc golfing and biking destination but want to improve the facilities for each sport, while adding other capabilities as well, said Kristin Pesman, Vashon Park District commissioner and member of the BARC planning committee.

Some want BARC to have a perimeter bike trail; others are hoping for a picnic area. Some skaters are pushing for an outdoor skate park.

“We’re really trying to get the kids to be a part of the whole planning process,” Pesman said. “We want it to be an active park. We’d like to have some sort of climbing structure — not like at Ober Park, but for more of an older set.”

The park received a $10,000 grant from King County Youth Sports last year, which Vashon Park District matched, and some of which was used to remove scotch broom.

The fledgling recreation center was also awarded $6,000 from the Development of Island Teens, a grant initially intended for the creation of a 60-by-40-foot outdoor concrete pad for skaters, Pesman said.

After a few meetings about the slab, Pesman said she and others realized “if we really want to go after this, we need to get designs for the whole park, so we can get better grants.”

When Vashon Park District put out a bid request this summer, an Idaho firm with experience designing skate parks responded, said Susan McCabe, program coordinator.

Initially, the district had hoped to work with the Idaho firm, because “it looked like they may be able to do the kind of alternative park we were hoping for,” she said.

But the firm’s estimate began to balloon, as one charge after another was added to it, and the district decided not to hire the firm.

“We just didn’t know what it was going to cost us,” McCabe said.

Instead, Gerlach — whose experience in landscape architecture meshes well with the BARC project, she said — was hired to the job. Gerlach could not be reached for comment.

One skateboarder voiced his concerns last week that Gerlach didn’t have experience designing skate parks.

“It would be better to have somebody who knows about skating,” said Shay Fortunoff, 16, who has been skating since age 5.

Still, McCabe said she believed Gerlach, an Islander, “has a vested interest in making this work.”

Once Gerlach’s designs are completed and finalized — hopefully by Jan. 1, McCabe said — Pesman and others will apply for grants that could more fully fund the park’s revitalization.

“The hope is to make it a community park — a place where all ages could practice on their bikes and skateboards or play disc golf,” Pesman said.

The BARC site was an agricultural property until Vashon Island School District purchased it and built Burton Elementary School in 1953.

In 1990, the school district determined that the site did not lend itself to expansion, and inadequate water supply would make it difficult to bring the facility to code.

The district decided to demolish the school. But in 1998, before demolition took place, the 3,600-square-foot Burton Indoor Skate Park opened. Because the indoor gym was being used recreationally, it was spared demolition when all the school’s other buildings were torn down in 2003, and instead was remodeled to make it safe for recreational use.