Neighbors: Don’t rain on my Parade Grounds

Should the parade grounds become a playground?

That question is causing a rift in the Fort Ward neighborhood. Another long discussion took place on the topic at the last Bainbridge Island Metro Parks & Recreation District meeting. A decision will be made Dec. 1.

The Fort Ward Neighborhood Association asked that it be placed at the parade grounds, after surveying people in the area. They want an area where kids can walk to and play. But there has been opposition by historic groups. The scope is about 758 square feet. Dan Hamlin, Park Services Division director, said the park district already owns a play structure that could be used there.

Opposition is worried about traffic, parking, noise, crime and decreased property values. Proponents said it would make the area more welcoming for families, provide local recreation so they don’t have to drive to playgrounds and provide a spot to socialize with neighbors. It’s also protected from roads and an already established play area.

Another site across Fort Ward Hill Road would be more neutral, is near trails, and would have less impact on residences. Cons include the need for fencing, traffic calming, concerns about crossing the street and the close proximity to the street.

Yet another site is two lots next to the parade grounds. Pros include no restrictions, but cons include too close to one residence, and fencing would be needed.

Residents proposed the upper Fort Ward Park area. Again there are no restrictions, it is away from residences and parking and restrooms are already available. There are concerns about crossing the street, a wetland, a steep slope, security, potential tree limbs falling, and it’s farther from potential users.

Once a site is selected, staff will work with the Bainbridge Island Parks and Trail Foundation, form a committee to decide the type of play area and bring a proposal to the parks board.

In public comments, Thomas Dildine said a location should be chosen out of the National Historic District. Mary Dombrowski said she supports a playground, but the one proposed does not fit with the historic district. She said relics like a tower, reservoir and bunkers would be more appropriate.

Grant Morgan said any site is better than nothing as there is overwhelming support for a playground. Alisha Arter said a decision should not be made until 2024 when the Fort Ward Comprehensive Plan is reevaluated. Bonnie Harris does not want a playground at the parade grounds. She said there needs to be more public involvement, and there is no urgency for the project.

Holly Paige said her family has to drive to visit playgrounds. Her kids want to be outside and have recreational opportunities in the neighborhood. She said the parade grounds are now used as an off-leash dog park and extended back yard for immediate neighbors.

Cindy Verderver said the rush for a McDonald’s-like play yard is inappropriate and led to fractures in the neighborhood. JD Sumsky said the parade grounds is the heart and soul of the neighborhood and where they have community events, so it is a good place for a playground. Mike Sumsky said kids have been playing there for years.

David Stettler said the parade grounds is historic due to its role in World War II and should be enhanced as the memorial that it was dedicated as. He does not know why Fort Ward is not recognized more for its role in the war, and a playground would diminish its status even more.

During discussion by the park commissioners, Tom Swolgaard said the parade grounds used to be bigger, but a developer bought some of the land and built homes. Ken DeWitt said he does not think a playground would be in violation of a historic district because it’s been an active use area for years. He added there used to be a dance hall, swimming pool and recreation center at Fort Ward, but homes have taken their place.