August 11, 2011

What Say You? Bainbridge Island Parks, Trails, and Farms

Blakely Harbor, photo courtesy of Bainbridge Island Parks District
Columnist, Santa Monica Mirror
Working landscapes. Across Puget Sound from Seattle, the City of Bainbridge Island owns five public farms providing sixty acres of land. Farming is part of the heritage of Bainbridge Island and the initiative for the farm properties came from the old time farmers who wanted to pass on a legacy to the next generation. Luckily, this initiative coincided with the growth of the buy local and the organic food movements and so the timing was just right for success.

“We believe having farms close by adds immeasurably to our quality of life: delicious healthy food, beautiful farmscapes, a more vibrant local economy, and a greater degree of sustainability.” --Bainbridge Island Friends of the Farms.

The public farms are working landscapes which dovetail with the mission of the Bainbridge Island Metro Parks and Recreation District (BIMPRD) “to build a healthy community through effective, sustainable stewardship of the district’s parks and open space, and through the development and delivery of innovative cultural and recreation opportunities.”--

The earliest park on the island is Fort Ward, given to the State of Washington by the military at the close of World War I.  Huge, grass lawns (no watering needed in the northwest) used as picnic and play areas, are bordered by a waterfront trail that parallels the shoreline. A forest of cedars and firs, ferns and blackberries, comprises most of the 137 acres of Fort Ward.

Under development now is Blakely Harbor, a 40-acre park, on the historically important site of Port Blakely Mill, one of the world's largest sawmills in the late 1800s. Healing Hooves Natural Vegetation Management was brought in to use goats to clear invasive weeds at the park site.--

An advisory committee made up of citizens, staff, and Bainbridge Island Land Trust members is working on the design proposal for the park. They plan to have three zones within the park. “Zone one is proposed for picnic and beach facilities, boardwalks, a parking area, and a launch for human-powered boats. Zone two for decks, footbridges, wildlife habitat restoration structures, interpretive displays and picnic areas. Zone three is planned to be a protected area with primitive facilities, and may include trails, pathways and interpretive signs.”

Yeomalt Cabin was built in 1935 by the Works Progress Administration and was recently restored. Located in the woods, the cabin is home to arts and cultural programs and performances, the most recent being a fort building camp for young children. Sue Hylen, the Arts and Cultural Manager, said she is inspired by the anonymous quote, “Art isn’t about the art, it’s about finding the creative spirit inside yourself.”

Bainbridge Island, accessed via Washington State Ferry, had a population of 23,025 people at the 2010 census. On the island there are more than 1600 acres of public park land, including forest land, beaches, playgrounds, large grassy expanses for playing soccer and other organized sports and areas for picnicking. The parks are often named for their locations on the island, such as Eagledale, Hidden Cove, and Grand Forest; there are 23 miles of forest trails; an aquatic center with separate areas for tots, water exercises, lessons, water sports, lane swimming and diving; and facilities buildings with cultural, sports, and community activities; all run by the parks district.

Privately run facilities, open to the public, include IslandWood (, a 225+ acre environmental education center with programs and activities for children, teens, and adults. And the Bloedel Reserve (, the legacy of an early island logging family with 150 acres, 84 of which are second growth forest, and then there are sheep meadows, barns, and formal gardens. Concerts in the sheep meadow are not to be missed.

Every six years the park district, through meetings and surveys, asks the residents of Bainbridge Island, “What do you expect from parks and trails and all open space? What is the experience you want to take away from your experience of living/working in the community and how does it relate to your experience of parks and open space?”

According to Perry Barrett, senior planner for the parks district, there is deep support for the parks among Islanders and so, while issues can be contentious, there are certain principles that are consistent.

“The community answer is always: protect our shoreline, our natural forests and our trails, maintain our connection to nature, our connection to the sea, our connection to farming and the land,” said Barrett.

The beauty of the park in Bainbridge is in the quality of the natural environment, the stewardship of the people, the history and the values of the community.

Frederick Law Olmsted, the great American landscape architect wrote in Public Parks and the Enlargement of Towns, Feb. 25, 1870, "The park should, as far as possible, compliment the town. Openness is the one thing you cannot get in buildings. Picturesqueness you can get. Let your buildings be as picturesque as your artists can make them. This is the beauty of a town. Consequently, the beauty of the park should be the other. It should be the beauty of the fields, the meadow, the prairie, of the green pastures, and the still waters. What we want to gain is tranquility and rest to the mind."

What do we want from the parks of Santa Monica?

What Say You?