New year’s cheer: promises made, promises kept

As 2018 winds down, I’m happy to celebrate Metro Parks Tacoma’s recent accomplishments and confirm what residents know: You can count on us.

I was born and raised in Tacoma and am the longest-serving elected member on the Metro Parks Board of Commissioners. So our agency’s performance is a source of personal pride and joy. Metro Parks keeps its promises to taxpayers.

One example: the $51.6 million, 35,000-square-foot Pacific Seas Aquarium, which opened in September at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. We needed it because the former North Pacific Aquarium was deteriorating, so we had to create a new way to exhibit marine life from our region. But we also decided to ratchet up our game, bring in warm-water species and show them off in a truly eye-popping way. If you haven’t already visited the 280,000-gallon Baja Bay exhibit and seen the green sea turtle brothers, Sunny and Azul, you’re in for a real treat.

In October, we opened the $32 million, 55,000-square-foot Eastside Community Center on the campus of First Creek Middle School. For a long time, Eastside residents have suffered a lack of public services. Equity is important, and Metro Parks taxpayers understand that. About 3,000 people turned out for the center’s grand opening; already more than 2,000 people have registered for center passes to ensure daily access at a lower rate.

This gem of a building features a sensational pool with amenities that rival water-park attractions. Besides that, the center’s got a sound-recording studio, a gym, fitness and weight-lifting equipment, a social hall and a kitchen. Plus, there’s Wi-Fi and a lounge where visitors can plug in and recharge digital devices. The center also is the new Eastside home of the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound, now serving more youngsters after school every day.

Have you visited Wapato Park lately? In June, we celebrated the completion of $1.2 million in new docks and other lakeside improvements, making it a great place for city fishing for kids 15 and under. Hundreds turned out for Fish Tacoma!, a no-gear-needed chance to catch and take home up to 3,000 trout that were stocked by the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Projects such as these would not have been possible without voters’ decision in 2014 to authorize a $198 million bond issue for capital improvements throughout the park district. That commitment made it possible to enlist community partners in these major construction efforts, which saves taxpayers’ money.

Other bond projects still on the horizon are the 2019 openings of the 11-acre Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance Park, on the breakwater surrounding the Tacoma Yacht Club boat basin, and the 600-foot-long, 50-foot-tall Wilson Way bridge and trail, which will link the park to Ruston Way.

On the recreation side, Metro Parks is always trying to find ways for people to participate, especially young people. One is through the Whole Child Access Pass, which offers discounts to families whose children are enrolled in Tacoma Public Schools. Another is our seasonal Elementary School Sports program, with after-school practices serving all 36 of Tacoma’s elementary schools. This low-price program also is supported by the Boys and Girls Clubs of South Puget Sound and the YMCA of Pierce and Kitsap Counties.

Also, last winter at STAR Center, we hosted Winter Wonderland, an event coordinated with Tacoma Public Schools, especially for children with disabilities, their siblings and families. Thousands turned out for this joyous, activity-filled celebration. A similar event at Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is in the works for 2019.

These are just a few of the ways Metro Parks Tacoma keeps its promises to the residents we serve. Over the next few weeks, we hope you celebrate with us and take part in one or more of Metro Parks’ holiday festivities. For example, this is the 30th anniversary of Zoolights, and we’ll be showing more than 700,000 lights on the grounds of the Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium. Among the newest displays are images of sea creatures like the ones in the Pacific Seas Aquarium.

Alternatively, take in a seasonal floral display at the W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory in Wright Park. Lavish: A Festive Victorian Holiday is on view through Jan. 6 and features cymbidiums, poinsettias, paperwhites and amaryllis. Or brace yourself for 2019 with a cool dip in Commencement Bay during the Polar Bear Plunge, starting at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 1 at the Point Defiance Marina’s boat launch.

Whatever you do, here’s wishing you a safe, healthy and happy holiday season and a happy new year!

Tim Reid is a Tacoma native who has been a member of the Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Commissioners since 1995. He is a past board president and serves on its Joint Municipal Action Committee and on a joint committee with Tacoma Public Schools.

Posted In: Park Board