By AMELIA HEAGERTY
After reading about Vashon Park District’s possible buyout of Vashon Kayak Company, a local kayaking enthusiast made a big enough donation to the district to ensure that they’d make the purchase.
The park board of commissioners voted unanimously last Tuesday to buy the kayak company.
Islander Melodie Woods has decided to give the parks $20,000 over the next three years — $10,000 this year towards the initial purchase price of the company, and $5,000 next year and the year after that for safety training of park employees and volunteers.
“It’s wonderful — what a cool surprise,” said Wendy Braicks, executive director of the park district. “This assures that the safety component of the program, which is really important, will be funded well. It gives us a little bit of a cushion now so we can provide this just as we have envisioned it.”
The park district put forth a $19,000 budget to purchase Vashon Kayak Company, but will add Woods’ donations to their investment so they can offer multi-day kayak tours, purchase more kayaks and perhaps even put on a kayaking camp or two, said Susan McCabe, parks program coordinator.
“What the donation does is allow us to, number one, have a large enough fleet to handle group programs and, number two, have enough to be able to do safety training and programs,” she said.
McCabe, who has attended kayak camp with current company co-owner David Steel, said the additional money could even allow the district to keep the rental program open longer each year.
Woods, who has lived on the Island for five years, said she is such a huge fan of the kayaking program that she decided to donate her year-end bonus to the park district.
“What I want people to realize is I’m not a rich person. I have a job and a mortgage and bills like most people on the Island do,” she said. “For me, I’ve never made a donation of this size to any organization, even though I support a number of Island organizations. It was done with a lot of thought and a lot of heart and a lot of intent.”
When Woods moved here, the Jensen Point Boathouse was one of the first areas she explored.
“I’ve been a kayaker off and on for a number of years,” she said. “A friend and I took lessons with David. We had the best time, and I just fell in love with it.”
Steel safety-trains all kayak renters before sending them out on the water, and he will continue to pass on his safety knowledge as an involved safety trainer to park staff this summer.
“I think he is such an asset, and he has such a love for our local water that is just infectious,” Woods said of Steel. “I love the idea that he will be able to train park employees.”
Woods said she is particularly fond of paddling around Quartermaster Harbor, and visiting those parts of the Island that are only accessibly by water.
“I first canoed as a kid and we didn’t even know that kayaks existed,” Woods said. “It’s really one of the things that I just love and treasure about the Island. I think both the inner and the outer harbor are some of the best places I have ever kayaked; it’s just so much fun.”
She said Vashon’s kayak rentals are an important community asset “for people who don’t own a kayak or have waterfront access on a permanent basis.”
Woods encouraged other Islanders to support park programs, which she said lend a distinct vibrancy to the community.
“You don’t have to have a lot of money to be able to do that, but I was really lucky to be able to do that,” she said. “Even just by renting a kayak this summer,” that will keep the program alive.
Braicks said the park district had received large donations in the past from foundations, but she didn’t recall receiving a contribution so large from an individual Islander before.