By Oliver Lazenby
Community members still have time to help design Birch Bay’s future $2.5 million park.
An August 6 planning meeting for the Birch Bay Community Park showed community-wide support for several park ideas, while a few, such as a playground, polarized meeting attendees.
The park’s designer, Robert W. Droll Landscape Architects, will design the park based on ideas from the meeting and present two alternate park plans at the second of three planning meetings at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, August 31, at Birch Bay Bible Community Church.
The 4.2-acre park is located at 7954 Birch Bay Drive, on the east side of the road just north of the Birch Bay Visitor Information Center.
The county held the August 6 meeting to gather input on the park’s design from the community. Ideas for the park included the following:
• An open shelter
• Picnic tables
• Showers (possibly outdoor showers)
• Bike and dog accessibility
• Aesthetic elements such as flowers and ornamental plants
• Cultural, historic and geographic interpretive signs
• Wheelchair beach access
• Sports courts
• Open spaces for flexible uses
• A playground
• Mail drop box
The county and community will also have to consider how much the park will cost to maintain, whether parking should accommodate peak use or just normal use, if it could benefit from off-site parking and a free shuttle, and if it could support businesses by giving beachgoers a central location to rinse off sand and dry off before heading to local shops and restaurants.
Some ideas – parking, an open shelter and open spaces, for example – seemed to have wide support at the meeting. Others, such as whether there should be a playground, brought out strong opinions on either side.
At the next meeting, the architect will present two separate designs that vary in some of the key design elements and give the community a better understanding of how the desired features would fit into the flat, beachside park.
“I think everyone agreed on between 150 and 200 parking stalls,” Robert Droll said in a phone interview. “What you need to see is what 150 to 200 parking stalls actually look like on the site.”
A recent site survey uncovered drain fields, old cabin footings and a subterranean concrete slab, among other things. But the site has a lot of potential and usable space, Droll said. “Really the most limiting thing on this site is not setbacks, not soil, not topography, but archaeological resources,” he said.
The county presented a map from Garth Baldwin of Drayton Archeology, a consultant on the Birch Bay Drive and Pedestrian Facility Project (commonly called the Birch Bay berm) that shows the likelihood of finding cultural and archaeological resources in different areas of the park.
There’s a high probability that archaeological resources exist from the street to about 50-feet east, according to the map. Most of the southern end has a moderate probability, and most of the northern end has a low probability of harboring traces of human activity.
“[Baldwin’s] advice to us it if we’re going to locate a building, we probably want it in the low probability area,” Droll said.
Plans for the park are also restricted by the grant used to purchase the property. The county bought the land in 2014 for $2.5 million with money from its Conservation Futures Fund.
That fund can only be used for “park purposes,” said county design and development supervisor Rod Lamb. That means picnic shelters and playgrounds are allowed, but community centers and libraries are not.
Some involved with the park early on dreamed of having a community center in the park or moving the Birch Bay Visitor Information Center building to that property, said Doralee Booth, a member of the committee that lobbied the county to purchase and create the park. The group titled its original proposal, “Imagine: Birch Bay Beach Park and Community Center,” Booth said.
“It’s a disappointment as far as we’re concerned but as you heard him say, the park is only 4 acres and we dream of having a million things on it,” Booth said. “It’s not all going to happen.”
Construction on the park probably won’t start until the Birch Bay berm project is finished, which is scheduled for spring 2018.