Submitted by Metro Parks Tacoma.
Joy sparkled like sunshine in the late fall air at Swan Creek Park.
“Good boy, get the stick!” called a woman to a Shih Tzu gamboling around the dog park.
“Two, three, four, five!” chanted two kids, hopping across play stumps.
And up the end of the zig-zag pathway, three teens on bikes skidded to a stop to check out the picnic shelter.
After several years of community planning and construction, Metro Parks Tacoma is nearing completion of a fun new recreation area in Swan Creek Park that gives Eastside residents and visitors a new space to play, explore nature and history, and spend family time. The park is officially open this Friday, with restrooms opening in the New Year.
“The community told us they wanted a safe place to play with kids and dogs, to have picnics and events and connect the other areas of the park,” explained Hollie Rogge, Metro Parks’ deputy director for neighborhood and community parks. “We’re really pleased to offer all that and more in this area.”
The improvements were funded by over $4 million in City of Tacoma voter-approved 2014 and 2005 bonds, a grant of $720,323 from the Washington State Recreation and Conservation Office Legacy Grant, and $17,500 from the Greater Metro Parks Foundation.
“Expanding connections to nature and community on Tacoma’s Eastside are a big part of Metro Parks’ commitments to equity, inclusivity and sustainability,” said Metro Parks Board President Erik Hanberg. “The new improvements not only add to Swan Creek Park as a regional attraction but also improve access and quality of life for Eastside residents of all ages and abilities.”
But while the new area has plenty of new amenities, it blends smoothly with both the wild nature and the deep history of Swan Creek Park.
Located immediately uphill (south) of Lister Elementary, and accessed via T Street, the new area begins with a picnic shelter – much needed, in this massive, 373-acre greenspace between east Tacoma and Pierce County. A parking area follows, with 75 new spots intermingled with plantings – so much easier for park accessibility, as well as for larger community events.
Split-rail wooden fences divide the parking from the surrounding second-growth forest with a rustic, natural vibe. Winding through the uplands area are five miles of renovated trails and 3.65 miles of paved pedestrian/bike paths, some laid over the original streets of the World War II housing project that once occupied the uplands. These in turn connect the mountain bike trails on Swan Creek Park’s south end with the community garden area to the north – a perfect riding area nestled behind both Lister Elementary and First Creek Middle School. They also link up with the new bike-friendly Pipeline Trail through the city’s east side and offer a way through to the park’s salmon stream canyon.
“The trail and path upgrades at Swan Creek Park will provide nearby students and youth with safe and accessible spaces to learn how to bike or scoot,” says Cailin Henley, Safe Routes to School coordinator for the City of Tacoma, one of many community groups with input into the project’s design. “Learning these skills in safe, low-stress places like parks helps youth to build confidence on their wheels before riding on city streets. The park’s new amenities are great investments in the wellness and safety of Tacoma youth, families, and residents.”
Just remember to slow down as you approach the park through the intersection of T and E 44th Streets – especially at school arrival and dismissal times.
Walking east along the wide paved path from the parking lot you soon reach a crossroads – and here’s where the fun really begins. On the east side a dog park encloses a four-acre area of forest, perfect for pooches to scratch, run and meet friends off-leash. Funded in part by the Greater Metro Parks Foundation (GMPF), the dog park is the biggest on Tacoma’s east side, adding to others at Point Defiance, Wapato and Rogers parks.
“It’s about equity,” said Hannah Fields, GMPF’s associate director of foundation and corporate relations. “Many people who live nearby Swan Creek face transportation barriers to getting places where they can recreate with their animals. Swan Creek’s new dog park offers local residents a wonderful place to visit with their dog on foot. There are also so many health benefits to going to the park with your dog, both mental and physical. And finally, being a natural, semi-forested park it’s so much more enriching for our canine friends to explore. That was really important to the private donors who made the dog park possible.”
Just beyond the dog park comes the human play area. Called the “Pause-and-Play,” it’s a stretch of former road that’s been de-paved in areas to create a squarish zigzag, with maples, birches and shrubs tucked into the edges. Along the way are logs for sitting, nestled in mulch, and several clusters of stumps at various low heights, complete with vertical poles made of smoothed tree-trunks.
Colored circles dot the way and invite meandering. It’s all highly natural, the wood untreated, to create a spot where nature meets playful exploration. (It also slows down bike riders before they meet pedestrians.)
But you can discover history here as well as nature. Interpretive signs call out with colorful graphics the layers of Swan Creek’s use: Puyallup and the neighboring Nisqually, Squaxin and Muckleshoot people who hunted, foraged and held council here until the mid-19th century and still live and raise families in the area. Loggers who left their mark on the old-growth cedar forest. Apple planters and pickers, WWII factory workers in newly-built homes, and communities today who forage in the “food forest” and recreate in the park.
The graphic stencils – orange, aqua, indigo and green for different time periods – repeat in large painted circles on the paved paths, another invitation to explore and learn. Lushootseed greetings welcome visitors and acknowledge the land’s traditional Indigenous stewards.
At the far end of the Pause-and-Play is a large picnic shelter, with two big sloping roofs and room for ten picnic tables – perfect for big community gatherings. (Rentals will begin in 2022.) Nearby are bike racks and a tool station, including a handy air pump. Back near the dog park entry are two unisex restroom stalls which will open as soon as power can be connected.
“I think the new section is great,” says Noah Struthers, executive director of 2nd Cycle, a non-profit which organizes public park rides and bike-related programming for court-involved youth. “The parking lot increases visibility and safety, and having water, restrooms and a place to gather makes it much easier to hold community events.”
Swan Creek Park’s new section also helps environmental conservation. Along the sides are bioswales – natural depressions with plants that soak up and filter stormwater runoff instead of sending it and its pollutants through drains into Puget Sound. Trash cans and dog-bag stations will help everyone keep the area clean.
“Many of our parks are very groomed, with mowed lawn or rose arbors,” said Kristi Evans, project manager for the new improvements. “But Swan Creek is a stunning natural area, an urban forest and stream. We’ve kept that natural feel, from reusing rocks and soil to turning the hazardous trees we needed to cut down into new playful features and mulch.”
Even fragments of the old WWII asphalt sidewalks have been left as a trace of history. It’s imperfect, beautiful, and just a little wild – while still being a safe place to explore.
Tacoma, it’s time to rediscover Swan Creek Park.
LEARN MORE: www.metroparkstacoma.org/place/swan-creek-park/