History of DeLong Park
History of DeLong Park
The Tacoma School District acquired the DeLong property in 1948 (the school site plus 8 acres to the east of the school). Six years later they opened DeLong Elementary.* Over the years the community around the school grew and neighbors organized the DeLong Park Recreational Association (DPRA) in 1973 to spearhead the development of the 8 acres parcel adjacent to the school into a park. At that time the Tacoma School District was using the site to dump waste materials from other schools and projects.
Once the Tacoma School District agreed to the park concept, the DPRA began raising money for the project. They received grants from the Bicentennial Commission, the Jaycees and private individuals. The City of Tacoma and the Metro Parks Tacoma also contributed funding to their effort. The DPRA was also successful in securing donations of materials, services, and labor from several Tacoma businesses and individuals.
The official kick off of the park development occurred on October 13, 1973. Rather than hosting a traditional ground-breaking ceremony, the DPRA arranged to have the National Guard come with heavy equipment to remove an old rusting car from brush and wetlands portion of the park. Over the next two years, the DPRA worked hard to develop the park. They cleared nature trails and picnic sites, installed picnic tables, a wading pool, tennis courts, play equipment and started work on a restroom facility.
In December of 1975 the DPRA dissolved their organization and transferred their remaining funds to Metro Park Tacoma to put the finishing touches on the park. Their plan had always been to turn over the park to MPT once the work was done.
On June 8, 1976 DeLong Park was officially dedicated. All the donors were recognized and the park now consisted of a turf multi-purpose field, restrooms, Tot Lot and plays area, wading pool, two tennis courts, lighting, picnic tables and one mile of walking paths through the natural areas.
Two years later the Tacoma School District formally transferred the DeLong Park land to Metro Parks Tacoma.
In 1990 the DeLong neighborhood pulled together again to form the DeLong Lake Preservation Committee. A private individual had purchased over 13 acres of land along the east side of DeLong Park between Gove and Cheyanne Streets and extending through the wetlands to South 18th Street (abutting the Fred Meyer parking lot) with the intention of developing a 110 unit townhouse-condominium complex.
The neighborhood group strongly opposed the development on the grounds of protecting the wetlands. Metro Parks Tacoma, the city of Tacoma, and Pierce County worked together to find funding to purchase the property and protect the area as an expansion of DeLong Park. In an appraisal of the property for the city, the Department of Wildlife noted that the wetland is diverse and “contains open water, marsh, swamps and riparian habitats.”
The appraisal also acknowledges that the wetland area also contains “concrete, asphalt, steel pipes and construction debris.” The report does not state where this construction debris came from but it is believed to have come from the construction of the “Narrows Freeway” now known as Highway 16.
To encourage the community to find a way to save the wetland a student at DeLong wrote the following poem:
In our swamp there are beautiful things.
I saw some birds with pretty wings.
They were all so beautiful, all around.
I couldn’t understand why there was litter on the ground.
In 1996 this additional 13.83 acres was purchased by Pierce County using Conservation Futures funding. The following year, Pierce County transferred the property to Metro Parks Tacoma more than doubling the original size of DeLong Park.
The park underwent major changes in 2004 thanks to a Building Tacoma Together grant and a Make a Splash Grant. The parking lot was improved; the entire park was landscaped with new topsoil, trees, shrubs, and groundcover; new interpretive signage was added; an automatic irrigation system was installed; overgrown areas were cleared and noxious weeds removed; and, the restroom, tennis courts and light poles were removed.
* The school was named to honor George Washington DeLong. A graduate of the US Naval Academy, DeLong led a band of explorers to the Arctic in 1880-81 in search of a passage from the Bering Sea to the North Pole. The explorers starved to death in the barren wastelands of Siberia. But Delong’s extensive explorations and chartings helped later Arctic explorers. They also helped disprove theories that warm Japanese currents kept sailing channels open through the Arctic Ocean. The experiences of DeLong and his explorers were recounted at the dedication of the school in March 1954 by Robert Copeland, School Board member and a rear admiral in the US Naval Reserve.