When the creaky, listing old barn at Howe Farm County Park is fully renovated by the end of February, visitors will get a glimpse of a Kitsap County park that’s in the beginning stages of a transformation to the past.
Known as the “West Wing,” the barn is being restored to its original condition. Its foundation, structural supports, siding, electrical systems and roof will be replaced during the process.
Work on rehabbing the barn started Nov. 18, said Ric Catron, parks project coordinator.
Sun Path Construction of Bremerton bid $80,000 to do the project. Catron said contractor Walter Galitzi has a “real love for restoration work.”
Before Sun Path could begin work this fall on the 1920s-era barn, an overgrown mass of blackberry vines rising 12 feet high had to be cleared from the entrance. The prickly growth did serve a purpose over the years serving as an effective barrier to vandals and trespassers, Catron said. Once the overgrowth was cleared, the barn interior had to be cleaned out. Amid the tons of hay bails was a huge collection of what Catron called “miscellaneous debris.”
Fortunately for the cleanup crew, they were able to use the barn hay to tamp down a layer of mud on the ground and use it as erosion control during the construction.
The emptied barn structure was in dire condition, Catron said. Many of the support beams and posts had rotted and collapsed, which caused the roof to sag dangerously. A cherry picker was brought in to help stabilize the west end of the barn with new 2×4-inch lumber. Soon, a new concrete foundation on the west end will be poured in the next week or two, he said, as will a new below-ground concrete retaining wall.
Salvageable siding has been removed and placed inside the barn for protection. And new electrical service will be installed, as well.
The barn, which is on the Washington State Historical Barn Register, also will require some work done on the adjoining “East Barn,” which was added in 1946.
Since both structures butt against each other, they share rotted wood at the transition.
Catron said a decision hasn’t been made how to use the barn’s upper level, but it could be used as a space for small events. The lower level most likely will be a storage space for park equipment. Today, the park along SE Long Lake Road and Mile Hill Road in South Kitsap is known mostly for its expansive dog park, pond, an orchard and meandering trails.
It’s a relatively undeveloped 83-acre parkland treasure that was purchased by the county from the Howe family in 1996.
While hay crops no longer sprout from the land, its now-dilapidated barn continues to evoke memories of its agricultural past when it was first owned by the McPherson family, which bought the property sometime in 1903. They later sold the farm to Ed Howe in the early 1940s.
The county parks department’s Howe Farm Management Plan recognizes the site’s unique nature — it has labeled it as an “atypical” park.
When a concept plan for the park was developed in 2000, citizens and county planners concluded it would best be developed as a space that replicated its agricultural past. But it also emphasized the site’s stream and sizable wetlands, as well as its natural beauty and recreational possibilities.
Since the plan was developed, Howe Farm County Park has been waiting its turn to blossom into that atypical county treasure. But now, Kitsap County planners have begun moving forward their vision of an agricultural/recreational space for park visitors.
“We’re excited to be taking a fresh look at how to use the farm property,” he said. Part of that refocus will include staff participation in workshops that Steven Starlin, a parks planner, and others hope provide insight in how other communities have used similar park space.
The Howe Farms Stewardship Group, a small volunteer committee that has been invested in the park for a number of years, has been keeping a close watch on the planning process.
Catron said he’s grateful for their contribution. “They’ve been very helpful,” he said. “The group has put together a work plan and wish list for us to do, and we take it from there.”
The barn restoration is getting the bulk of attention at the park, but there are other amenities at the site. Beyond the orchard on the far side of the farm is the historic farmhouse, which Catron said won’t be part of the restoration work.
Near-future plans, most like will include improved hiking trails and a gazebo near that location.
“We’ll have to be clever in how we combine the recreational aspects of the farm with the agricultural,” Catron said.
“We’ll be thinking about things like manure, which is a staple in a farming environment but not something park visitors like to be around.”
The parks planner said existing park amenities won’t be going away with the advent of the new “ag-park” plan.
“We’re adding to what is here now,” he said. The fenced dog park will remain. With added signage and fencing, park tenders will ensure they stay outside the open, unfenced areas.
Catron said dogs now are roaming throughout unfenced areas, which had led to problems with the wildlife. “The dogs frighten them, and we want to bring the wildlife back as much as we can,” he added.
There apparently is a wildlife problem that Catron said has been more problematic: busy beavers building dams on Salmonberry Creek.
In fact, a large beaver dam on the property is impeding access to a crossing area over the creek.
“I’m not sure how we’re going to address that,” he said. “We have a lot of beavers in our parks. What I have to tell people is that the beavers were here first.”