Parks district changes name, adds new programs

Published on Wed, Mar 19, 2014 by Ian Ferguson

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With a new name and assured funding for the next four years, the local park and recreation district is ramping up its activity this spring.

The board of commissioners of the former Northwest Park and Recreation District 2 voted in December to change the district’s name to better reflect its geographical area. County council members voted to accept the name change in February, and now the district is officially known as the Blaine-Birch Bay Park and Recreation District (BBBPRD).

“We’re excited about the new name,” said Heidi Holmes, who manages the district’s programs as its only full-time employee. 
“People weren’t sure what area we served [under the old name], and the new name makes it clear.”

The renaming comes three months after voters approved a property tax levy to support the district. With funds once again coming in, BBBPRD is looking to expand its programs and its impact in the community, much as it did following the passage of a similar levy in 2007.

Although it was formed in 1979, the district was dormant for many years. In 2007 a group of local residents energized the district with the mission “to provide recreational opportunities, acquire and maintain sites that enhance our quality of life and preserve the natural and recreational resources of the district.” That year, voters approved a levy that the district used to build community trails, a kayak launch, a dog park, birding shelters and playgrounds.

Most significantly, the funds from the 2007 levy allowed the district to renovate a former air force gymnasium at Bay Horizon Park in Birch Bay. Now known as the Birch Bay Activity Center, the gym houses the district offices and hosts many recreational programs. Community members come to the gym to participate in activities such as Zumba, pickleball and basketball. Participants can stay active in a social setting for very little cost – the drop-in fee for most programs is $2–3.

The 2007 levy ended in 2011, but the district did more than limp by on its dwindling funds for the next two years. Holmes and several part-time employees and volunteers kept programs running in the Birch Bay Activity Center year-round, along with other community programs and events around Blaine and Birch Bay. Just as the money was truly running out, voters came to the rescue by passing another four-year property tax levy in November 2013. Ten cents of every $1,000 of assessed property value in Blaine and Birch Bay will go to support the BBBPRD through 2017.

Holmes said the money is already being put to use.

“It’s made a huge difference,” she said. “It’s helped us continue to operate here, and we’re going to be able to expand the programs that people want to see. There are upgrades to the gym’s heating and cooling system in the works, and we’re hoping to work with the city of Blaine on trail systems through the community.”

One of the early goals of the district when it was formed in 2007 was to create a trail system to connect Blaine and Birch Bay.

“We still foresee that goal,” Holmes said. “It’s within the scope of what we can do now that we have funding.”

In the Birch Bay Activity Center, the weekly schedule is filling up fast. More than 200 people signed in to use the gym over the course of a week in February. Activities have been added to the schedule to keep up with demand.

Open-gym basketball with a $2 drop-in fee is one recent addition. Inserts to support volleyball nets were installed in the gym floor in early March, and open-gym volleyball will begin in April. Line dancing started in December and has been growing steadily.

Pickleball and Zumba remain the two most popular activities, and more time slots for pickleball have been added to keep up with demand. 

A racquet sport invented by a Washington congressman to keep his family entertained, pickleball has been around since the ’60s but has skyrocketed in popularity in the last few years. The number of registered pickleball courts has nearly tripled to 2,236 since 2010, according to the USA Pickleball Association.

Glen Hurst is a regular pickleball player who lives in Birch Bay. He and several friends were playing pickleball in the Birch Bay Activity Center on March 14.

“It’s a fast-paced game, and it’s a great workout, especially if you do it for three hours,” Hurst said. “It’s like Ping-Pong on a badminton court with rules similar to tennis.”

Other games geared more for kids are scheduled for the spring. Games such as capture-the-flag, dodgeball and jump-roping are scheduled for spring break in April to keep kids active. In May, the district will hold its annual picnic in the playground and will also host a block party in tandem with the Lions Club’s Camp Horizon’s Crazy Golf Tournament.

The BBBPRD will continue to increase its offering of programs if volunteers and instructors can be found to run them, Holmes said.

“We’re hoping to just continue to grow,” she said. “We welcome people to stop in to say hello and check out our programs.” 

The Birch Bay Activity Center is located at 7511 Gemini Street in Birch Bay. More information can be found on the district’s website at blainebirchbayparkandrec.org.