Vote ‘yes’ for King County parks

People are drawn to Vashon Island for many reasons, from the safe community to the great schools, from the vibrant arts and culture scene to the small town feel. But some of our greatest treasures are our parks, trails and open spaces. Many of my fondest memories of raising our children here on the island involve them playing on the beach, walking in the forest or playing soccer or baseball. People move here because of those open spaces we love. And you have a chance to make a difference for many of those open spaces, and it is as simple as dropping an envelope in the mail.

The King County Parks levy is on your ballot, which were sent out in the mail last week. And if history shows us anything, it’s that voter turnout could be very low in this “off-year” primary election in King County. In fact, in the primary election of 2017, only 34% of registered voters got their ballots in. Think about that: 34%. But I am hoping more of you will do so this week. Why?

Because this levy has huge benefits for us — real, tangible benefits. And it also makes it possible to save more of our remaining open spaces, and allows for kids in under-resourced communities to get access to crown jewels like Woodland Park Zoo and Seattle Aquarium.

The levy will generate an estimated $738 million over the next six years to expand and connect regional trails, improve access to green space and recreation, and keep the county’s parks and trails clean, safe and open. In fact, the levy represents 80 percent of the county’s operational budget for parks. So failure is not an option. Keep in mind this simply renews the levy that passed six years ago. That levy, which voters approved in 2013, expires at the end of the year. This new levy improves access to parks and trails, improves trailheads around the county, rehabilitates play area equipment in six parks and replaces 11 ballfields. (Note: this is a King County Parks Levy – not the Vashon Parks Levy).

So what’s in it for us?

•Here on Vashon, we would see drastically needed improvements at Dockton Park, bike trail improvements at Dockton, trail improvements at Island Center Forest and more.

• The levy would cost about 18 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, which would cost the owner of a home valued at $500,000 about $7.60 per month, which is about $2 more than you currently pay.

• The levy provides funding for the Seattle Aquarium and also Woodland Park Zoo. Full disclosure: I work at the zoo and can tell you the levy will mean many kids get to take field trips to the zoo — kids who would otherwise never be able to come.

• About $10 million per year would go toward equity-focused grants to increase access to and use of recreation facilities in communities that are currently underserved or face other barriers.

Our children were very lucky, growing up here on Vashon. They hung out at the beach, or played at the park or went hiking. Back when I ran my daughter’s Camp Fire group, we all would chuckle about the groups that would leave their towns to go to hike, to see nature and be outside. We were here on this wonderful jewel in the middle of Puget Sound. Nature was all around us. There was no need to go far. How blessed those kids were. But not every kid is as lucky with ready access to forests, rivers and the Puget Sound, let alone ballfields and parks.

In fact, King County is changing. Unprecedented growth, urban sprawl on the far edges of King County, decreasing affordability — these are the challenges we face today. But it is within our power to take important steps that will change our future. We can fix ballfields so kids can play. We can acquire land so trails are connected in King County. We can improve important gathering places like Dockton Park and Island Center Forest. We can make it possible for kids to go to the zoo, no matter where their schools are.

And it is all as easy as dropping your ballots in the mail before Aug. 6.

Over a century ago, President Teddy Roosevelt created many of our national parks. He showed amazing foresight, protecting these wild places. So it makes sense to think of him as we approach this election.

“The nation behaves well if it treats its natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value,” he said.

President Roosevelt loved his parks. Vashon does, too. Let’s take care of them for our next generation.

Lauri Hennessey is the vice president of engagement at Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle. She is also the mother of three young adults raised on Vashon, a former softball coach and former Camp Fire leader who loves Vashon’s open spaces.

This version corrects the levy rate and the amount available for equity-focused grants.