“This is fantastic day and it’s been a long time coming,” said Tom Teigen, Snohomish County Parks and Recreation Director, as he welcomed a group of citizens, elected officials and a number of four-legged constituents to Saturday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony for Esperance Park improvements.
The site of the former Esperance Elementary School, Snohomish County paid the Edmonds School District $1.95 million for the 3.34 acres in the unincorporated pocket of Esperance, at 80th Avenue West and 224th Street Southwest.
Teigen pointed to the work of Snohomish County Councilmember Stephanie Wright and then-Councilmember and current County Executive Dave Somers, who in 2013 prioritized acquiring the property as part of a County Conservation Futures bond. That bond provided $1.1 million and the county was able to find an additional $800,000 to complete the purchase, Teigen said.
“What a beautiful addition to our parks system, what a great addition to your community and a gift for the future,” Somers told the crowd. “We don’t have opportunities like this very often. I’m really happy and proud we could be part of this.”
A total of 6.2 acres of the 9.6-acre property were declared surplus in the late 1980s and slated to be sold for housing development. But thanks to the efforts of a community activist group, the Action Council for Esperance (ACE), the county instead acquired the site for a community park.
However, with the exception of a few benches and picnic tables, a play structure, a volleyball court, and a 2009 upgrade to the baseball field, the park has remained largely unimproved since that time. While it is enjoyed by many for sports, dog walks, a playground and other outdoor activities, use of the park has been limited by the lack of parking and other amenities.
After several years of discussion and negotiation, and thanks to Conservation Futures funding, a $500,000 grant from the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office, and several other sources, on Jan. 28 the county closed a deal with the school district to purchase the remaining acreage.
The additional property been newly paved for parking, an important component given Little League baseball games and other activities occurring at the park, Teigen said.
Since 2014, in anticipation of the purchase, the county has worked with stakeholders and the public to gather input and ideas for park improvement. Suggestions include accessible walking paths, an off-leash dog area, a pea patch community garden, expanded playground and parking areas, woodland trails, native landscaping and more.
Wright acknowledged the efforts of long-time Esperance resident Stephanie Harris, who approached Wright shortly after she was elected to the council and urged her to prioritize the park project. “She was passionate so I came out here one fall afternoon and we met at her house,” Wright said. “She had a vision about what this really could be. Pea patches, dog park expansion, playground equipment. That is what really sparked me getting involved.”
“This could be 28 condos infringing upon the park but instead it’s an addition that allows us to expand and do so much more here,” Wright added. “We have made our park whole.”
Another citizen who was lauded for his work was Esperance resident John Briney, who not only lobbied the school district to maintain the green space, but also created the Friends of Esperance email group that coordinates twice-yearly park cleanups. Anyone interested in assisting with park volunteer activities can email Briney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Another elected official who spoke Saturday morning was County Councilmember Terry Ryan from Wright’s neighboring 4th District, which includes Mountlake Terrace and Brier. Ryan’s experience as a Realtor provided valuable expertise during the property acquisition process, Teigen said.
Teigen also thanked State Sen. Maralyn Chase (D-32nd District) for her work in securing the Recreation and Conservation Office grant. Chase, attending the ceremony with her grandson Chase Simerka, noted that the family often brings their dogs to the Esperance off-leash park.
A meeting has been scheduled for 6:30-8:30 p.m. Thursday, March 10 to discuss the master plan and next steps for the park. The meeting will be at Rock of Hope Baptist Church-South Campus, 7812 224th St. S.W., Edmonds.