Way back in December 2019, we at King County Parks were already anticipating a busy and productive year. And then… Winter flooding and storms, followed by COVID-19 closures and cancellations; shifts to virtual programming and remote work for many employees; and finally, remarkably high visitation and use – these all combined to make 2020 one for the record books.
Through it all, Parks employees continued our essential work, ensuring our parks and trails are safe for visitors and staff, adapting programs and partnerships to our new reality, making progress on the capital improvements identified in our levy, and working with partners to nurture an inclusive and welcoming outdoors, especially for our BIPOC community members.
Here is a snapshot of what we’ve been up to in 2020.
COVID-19 response requires re-imagining how we recreate
In response to the Governor’s Stay Home, Stay Healthy order in the spring, we closed or limited access to facilities and canceled programs and events. We were able to re-open facilities and some activities in June when King County entered Phase 2 of the state’s Safe Start plan. As essential workers, Parks employees have continued working throughout to deliver on our mission, shifting to teleworking and adapting field operations to align with public health guidelines for workplace safety.
As a large public land manager serving King County’s more than 2 million residents, we knew it was critical to to help people understand how to recreate and enjoy the outdoors in these COVID times. So we teamed up with outdoor recreation organizations and other public land managers across the state to found the Recreate Responsibly Coalition, which has now evolved into a national movement educating the public on how to stay safe while enjoying the outdoors and reducing the spread of the virus.
Since March, we have updated a COVID-19 response website in both English and Spanish and made sure that our visitors had clear signage about how to be safe in our parks and on our trails. Thanks to a program from King County’s Department of Community and Health Services, multi-lingual Health Ambassadors helped distribute face coverings and COVID resources to visitors in nine of our parks this fall.
Other ways we’ve adapted during these COVID times include:
- We continue to host food and PPE distribution events in our parks, and our Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center is currently serving as a COVID testing site.
- Our White Center Teen Program has been offering online programming to help teens stay connected and keep learning while schools are closed.
- Our Volunteer Program has been hosting habitat restoration work parties with small groups and households
- CHOMP! and Trailhead Direct and our river safety education programming all went virtual
Nurturing an inclusive outdoors
This year also shined a bright light on the many ways racism intersects with our work as a steward of public lands. Although we strive to lead with equity, we know that racism has affected, and continues to affect, the ways we serve our community. And we know that we are not achieving our mission if we are not serving the Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) in our community.
While we have much work to do, some of the actions we’ve taken this year include:
- Initiating equity and social justice strategic planning for the division
- Using our social media platforms to amplify the voices of members of the BIPOC community in the outdoor recreation space
- Collaborating with University of Washington and the 90-member King County Play Equity Coalition to tackle systemic barriers that have led to inequitable access to sports and outdoor recreation for youth of color, youth in poverty, and immigrant and refugee youth
But wait! There’s more!
Reaching exciting milestones in parks, trails improvements
This September, we were proud to launch the Leafline Trails Coalition, a four-county effort to connect regional trails network across the central Puget Sound region to improve health, community, quality of life, mobility, and access for all.
Speaking of regional trails… we opened a new segment of the Lake to Sound Trail in February, and our friends at the Washington Department of Transportation got to work on the southern segment of the Eastrail from Bellevue to Renton.
We were able to support youth sports infrastructure and physical activity programs with $600,000 in grants.
And we’ve been growing our system, too! Like the time we added some acres to Skyway Park and acquired a new forested park in the unincorporated North Highline area.
Some of the other capital improvement projects underway in 2020 include:
- The first steps of repairing the dock at Dockton Park
- Replacing the skylights on the 30-year-old Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center
- Upgrading a play area at Marymoor Park
- Repaving the pathways at Maplewood Park
- Installing Portland loos at Steve Cox Memorial Park
- Replacing the restrooms at Coalfield Park
Outlook for 2021
As we give a grateful exhale for the closing of 2020 and breathe in the beginning of a bright new year, we at King County Parks have much to look forward to.
In 2021, the second year of our six-year levy, we will:
- Construct many capital improvement projects and advance the design and permitting of many more
- Double down on our commitment to equity by:
- analyzing facility scheduling practices to ensure inclusion of leagues and organizations serving our BIPOC residents
- launching an internship program, co-designed with high school students, for BIPOC teens that offers paid, career-oriented experience in the field of parks, recreation, and the environment
- acquiring open spaces in historically underserved, urban unincorporated areas through the Land Conservation Initiative
- Fund $25 million in new grants to local cities, Tribes, and non-profit organizations for park improvements and acquisitions; aquatic facility improvements; river access, recreation, and restoration; and programs that increase access to parks and recreation opportunities
- Update our Parks, Trails, and Open Space Plan to ensure we are preparing to meet the open space and recreation needs of our growing King County community.
Whew! For more of a peek into our 2020, pop over to our Flickr. Yep, we’re a busy bunch… but it’s worth it when you’ve got all this in Your Big Backyard!