Monday, March 26, 2018

Trails End Horse Arena, Stables to Be Demolished

Above: The long vacant Trails End horse arena is facing demolition by the City of Tumwater. The city proposes to use the 22.4 acres it owns near the Olympia Airport for its new operations and maintenance facility.

- The Gopher in the Room
- Large Garry Oak Could Be Removed

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

In its heyday, there was no place like the Trails End arena and event center for horse shows, rodeos, 4-H activities, country western concerts, dancing, fine dining and good times.

Located in Tumwater near the Olympia Airport off Old Highway 99, the long vacant site is an integral piece of priceless memories for generations of South Sounders.

Horse culture runs deep in Thurston County and many children grew up there, riding and showing their animals and yes, mucking out horse stalls. Tens of horses were boarded there year round, and for many adults too, it was home away from home.

Now, as local 4-H groups and equestrian clubs struggle to find open space to meet and practice, the site that used to foster so much community is now covered with blackberry brambles.

The boarded-up building fronts look like a ghost town set in an old western, but you can almost smell sawdust and hear horses snort and whinny.

Above: The Trails End in Tumwater near the Olympia Airport.

Community Meeting

The long vacant Trails End horse arena is facing demolition by the City of Tumwater. The city proposes to use the 22.4 acres it owns near the Olympia Airport for its new operations and maintenance facility.

Nearly 40 community members attended a meeting about the plan on Thursday evening in Tumwater’s new Warehouse District, an area near the Trails End that caters to small, startup craft brewing, distilling and cider industries.

Jay Eaton, Tumwater public works director, fielded questions and addressed the proposed project’s impacts on the environment and surrounding neighborhoods. Joining him were representatives of TCF Architecture who planned and designed Tumwater’s new Peter G. Schmidt Elementary School.

The city first put the new operations and maintenance facility into its capital facility plan in 2012. The city’s current facilities, which include 100 vehicles, are crammed into two locations: one behind city hall and the other at the corner of Israel Road and Capitol Boulevard in the old fire station.

Taking into consideration the future expansion of city hall, additional staff and parking and more urban amenities, city staff began looking for properties that would accommodate growth of the city and their needs.

Built in pieces between the 1960s and the 1990s, the Trails End property had fallen out of the bankrupt hands of housing developer Tri Vo and his company, Triway Enterprises.

In 2014, the City of Tumwater purchased the property for the purpose of creating a new operations and maintenance facility. The property is zoned light commercial. 

Eaton said vandals have stripped the property clean of plumbing, electrical wiring and other features of value. Structurally, he said the beams in the arena are failing.

“It’s kind of sad. It used to be a happening place and now it’s in poor condition. It’s not suitable for any purpose. It’s much easier to build new space much more efficiently than (keep) the existing buildings. If we were to bring it back…it really doesn’t function for the intended use we have,” he said.

Above: City of Tumwater Mayor Pete Kmet welcomed community members to a meeting about the future of the Trails End property on Thursday evening. Many questions were asked and the meeting lasted over two hours.

Site Alternatives

The city presented a series of site alternatives, all ranging in cost from $30 to $46 million.

Trails End Road divides the former Trails End property between two parcels. Options include the possibility of realigning 79th Avenue around the entire property.

The road now leads to a housing development called Sterling Crossing. Increased Old Highway 99 traffic at 79th Avenue SE comes from new developments with streets named after equestrian terminology like Stable Court, Arab Drive, and Derby Lane and subdivisions like Bridlewood. 

The city also wants to designate an area that could be used for a permanent park. That aspect of the plan would be handled by the city’s parks and recreation staff.

Some community members of nearby subdivisions are eager to have the property cleaned up and used by the city. Others are concerned about noise associated with operations.

Dan Venable said he frequented Trails End for about 20 years and once operated the restaurant and lounge. Venable, owner of a residential demolition firm, agreed the city needed a new facility but wondered if the site was the most cost effective place to put it. Eaton said the city looked at different properties but preferred to have property that was in city ownership.

Doug Woolen asked about the liability of a fuel facility near a residential community. Eaton said that the city did examine that, but felt the city needed access to immediate fuel in order to respond to emergencies. He said the facilities would be state-of-the-art.

The Gopher in the Room

Addressing the gopher in the room, Eaton acknowledged that the site will be subject to environmental review as it is home to the federally protected and endangered Mazama pocket gopher.

Eaton said the city has built up “credits” to mitigate the impact of destroying the Mazama pocket gopher habitat, but will still have to address it in a habitat conservation plan.

“The gopher issue will be an issue no matter what happens on this property…it still doesn’t make it easy to get through the process.”

A large Garry Oak tree is also on the property. Garry Oaks, also known as Oregon white oaks, and its related prairie ecosystems are vanishing rapidly in the South Sound due to development pressure.

Asked later about the future of the oak, Eaton says it depends which site alternative is selected.

“Alternative A, with the development on the west parcel, wouldn’t impact the tree.  Alternative B, in its current configuration with the development on the east parcel, would impact the tree unless the site could be rearranged to avoid it, which would appear to be difficult. As the project progresses the alternatives could change.  The demolition project wouldn’t include removal of the tree,” he told Little Hollywood.

“It is still our intent to move forward with demolition this summer and construction a couple years from now… with the caveat that we’ll be dealing with the gopher and related environmental issues,” said Eaton.

Alicia Phillips boarded her horses there, participated with cattle events, and briefly ran a cafe at Trails End during weekend events.

Phillips attended the City of Tumwater’s council meeting on Tuesday evening to express her passionate feelings about the Trails End complex. She also attended Thursday night’s meeting.

“Why is there no consideration for the spirit for what this place has been? There is history here. The city is missing out on a huge opportunity to preserve history. When you say none of it is salvageable, I don’t believe it,” she said at Thursday's meeting.

Later, she spoke with Mayor Pete Kmet, who stayed for the entire meeting. She asked him to find a way for the existence of the Trails End to somehow be commemorated.

“I was more than a bit disheartened by everyones willingness to demolish and pave over its history. This site has a rich history and has housed thousands of events,” she told Little Hollywood.

Above: A tiny green space for the Sterling Crossing subdivision consists of a single piece of plastic playground equipment. It sits in stark contrast to the 22 acres of adjacent open space. A large outbuilding that used to board horses sits on the other side of the subdivision’s fence on the Trails End west parcel.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Spring, Sun, and Bubbles

Above: In celebration of the first day of spring, students of Olympia School District’s Transition Academy joined in the fun at the 26th Annual Community Bubble Blow in downtown Olympia on Tuesday.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

Sunny skies and warm temperatures made for excellent bubbles and great fun at the 26th Annual Community Bubble Blow on Tuesday.

Come wind, rain, hail, sleet, snow, high tides, sea-level rise, or maybe even sun, the event is always held on the first day of spring from noon to 1:00 p.m. near “The Kiss” statue on Percival Landing in downtown Olympia. 

Glorious batik windsocks are provided each year by Earthbound Productions.

This year, jump ropes were added to the festivities. When the children showed reluctance to try them out, the adults tied the two ropes together and played their own games. 

The event is sponsored by People-Who-Know-We-Live-In-A-Great-Place.

Above: Keatyn Cummings, 2 ½ , came with her mom, Jasmine, and Uncle Jesse to make some fantastic bubbles.

Above: The adults could not resist jumping rope. 

Above: Skye, 3, and her mom created amazing bubbles with the very special Romper Room wand. 

Above: EF International Language Campuses coordinators Kagan Yabas, left, and Deniz Kutluhan of Istanbul, Turkey also stopped by on Tuesday. Tomorrow, they leave for Santa Barbara, California. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Rhododendron Death Mourned in Olympia Park

Above: A rhododendron grove in healthier times at Woodruff Park in Olympia. The grove became diseased and was recently cut down and removed. Photo taken in May, 2015.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

A spectacular rhododendron grove standing 25 feet high has graced the corner of Woodruff Park on Olympia's westside near Thomas and Harrison Street since the 1950s.

The beauty of its lavender colored blossoms has provided decades of joy for pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, transit riders, neighborhood residents, schoolchildren of Garfield School, nearby business patrons and members of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church.

The grove, however, has not lived to see another Spring. 

After an expert reported its condition to city staff, the diseased grove was recently cut down and removed.

Above: A close up of the rhododendron grove in Woodruff Park on Olympia's westside. Photo taken in May, 2015.

Above: The diseased rhododendron grove in June, 2017. Rhododendrons are a large family of deciduous or evergreen shrubs or small trees with showy blossoms. In 1959, the Legislature designated the native species, Rhododendron macrophyllum, as the official flower of the state of Washington.

Before making the decision to remove the bushes, Olympia Parks and Recreation staff consulted with rhododendron expert Dr. Gary Becker, an Olympia chapter member of the American Rhododendron Society.

Becker has been involved with many rhododendron gardens in University Place and Gig Harbor and recently moved to Olympia. After inspecting the five large rhododendrons, he provided a report to the City of Olympia.

Becker suspected an infestation of phytophora, which spreads through the root system. One plant was dead and the others exhibited significant dieback of branch tips and an absence of new growth. He recommended the removal of the one plant and its root ball and not recycling or composting it. 

Two bushes appeared healthy “with normal flush and full green leaves with only sparse tip dieback,” while two others, he reported, could possibly survive with treatment.

“Fortunately rhododendrons have shallow roots and a fungicide may be successful, but that is not guaranteed. Despite the best efforts, all of the plants may become infected and die over the next few years,” wrote Becker in his report.

Above: Tags with handwritten messages expressing positive thoughts such as “Hope,” “Mend & Heal,” and “You are Beautiful,” dangled from the rhododendron grove’s branches.

Messages of Hope

The rhododendron grove’s ill health did not go unnoticed.

Messages of hope written on paper tags have been tied to its branches for at least a year. Little Hollywood first made an inquiry last June to city staff about its appearance. 

Seth Chance, the city’s landscape horticulturist, said the disease has been spreading throughout the grove, taking out one or two rhododendrons per year for the past couple of years.

“It’s a real tragedy that those rhododendrons had to be removed. We didn’t send in tissue samples for a definitive diagnosis, but phytophora is the suspected pathogen…and finally infected the last healthy ones this past year. 

“The plan is to plant grass and leave the area fallow for a few years so that hopefully the infection will die off. We opted against using pesticides in trying to combat the infestation, as Woodruff is a pesticide free park, and success would not have been guaranteed even with treatment,” said Chance.

Above: The rhododendron grove as seen this past week in Woodruff Park.    

Friday, March 9, 2018

Billy Frank Jr. Park Dedicated in Olympia

Above: A community member listens to Robert Whitener, Squaxin Island tribal member and board member of Salmon Defense, at the naming dedication ceremony of a park and trail for Native American fishing and treaty rights activist Billy Frank Jr. on Friday morning in Olympia.

By Janine Gates
Little Hollywood

“It’s good medicine for all of us to be here today,” said Nisqually Tribal Council member Willie Frank III.

Under a sunny sky overlooking Budd Inlet at the southernmost tip of Puget Sound, Frank acknowledged the beautiful day at the naming dedication of a half-acre park and trail for his father, Billy Frank Jr., on Friday morning.

The celebration was held on what would have been Frank’s 87th birthday. He passed away in 2014.

Following a public process and in collaboration with members of the Frank family, Port of Olympia commissioners recently approved the park renaming project.

The park, located on port property, is on Marine Drive near the KGY radio station and Anthony’s Hearthfire Grill Restaurant. Educational signs and native landscaping will be added to the site at a later date.

Above: Willie Frank III speaks at the dedication ceremony to name a piece of Port of Olympia property Billy Frank Jr. Park on Friday. 

Willie Frank III, members of the Frank family, Nisqually and Squaxin Island tribal council and members, local and state elected officials and community members were on hand at the event to remember Frank’s humor, tireless energy and fierce advocacy for Native fishing and treaty rights, environmental justice, and salmon recovery.

Acknowledging elders and members of the Nisqually Youth Council, a group formed just two weeks ago, Frank said the Tribe is carrying on for the next generation.

The best thing about his dad, he said, was his ability to bring everybody together.

“The purpose of this park is to serve as a…tool to educate the people of Thurston County, the State of Washington, and whoever comes to visit the area. We’ve been here since the beginning of time…and there’s just not enough history out there to educate people about the good things that our tribes bring to this area….

“I fully believe that he is with us here today, bringing our two tribes together, the Squaxin Island Tribe and the Nisqually Tribe….I hope with this park that we can…work on this project and move forward for the betterment of this area and for the people of this area,” he said.

Above: The Billy Frank Jr. Park and trail along Budd Inlet in Olympia.

Several speakers brought up current events and issues, such as the dam on the Deschutes River at Fifth Avenue in downtown Olympia.

“The Port of Olympia is honored to play a small role in celebrating Billy Frank Jr’s life and sharing this place with everyone….Let today be the start of our renewed commitment to restore this land and water to health, so that as the seas rise…salmon may run here again in great numbers and children may safely swim….Together we’ll work toward a better future for the grandchildren,” said Port of Olympia Commissioner E.J. Zita.

Robert Whitener, Squaxin Island tribal member and board member of Salmon Defense, a nonprofit Frank helped establish, wondered what Frank would have thought about current events.

“If Billy were here today, he wouldn’t be happy about the Hirst bill, he wouldn’t be happy about the culverts case….and Billy would be saying, “Why in the hell is there still a f-ing dam over there?!” The crowd burst into laughter.

Known as the Hirst decision, the Washington State Supreme Court in 2016 ruled that counties planning under the Growth Management Act must make their own determination on the availability of water before issuing a building permit for projects that use wells as a water source. In January, Governor Jay Inslee signed legislation that “fixes” the decision.

Also in January, the U.S. Supreme Court decided it will hear a case in which the State of Washington could be required, at its own expense, to remove or repair hundreds of road culverts that block salmon from historic spawning habitat.

State Representative Laurie Dolan, 22nd District, Olympia, said that nothing is more important than the “right water policy” and she will work to stand strong with the tribes and collaborate with U.S. Congressman Denny Heck to obtain funding to replace the Nisqually bridge.

Senator John McCoy, 38th District, Tulalip, described a bill delivered to Governor Inslee earlier in the day in support of state-tribal education compact schools. The bill, SSB 6474, directs the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to create a pilot project for tribal compact schools that will accommodate cultural, fisheries, and agricultural events and replace graduation testing requirements with culturally relevant and community based standards.

“All of us elders need to be teaching our young…we have a lot of work to do…our work is never done – we just need to follow Billy’s example and we will get it done,” he said to applause from the crowd.

Chehalis tribal member Bonnie Bush, a grants administrator and basket weaver, is a great-niece of Billy Frank Jr. 

After the ceremony, she said she really never knew her great uncle, but the event reconnected her with family and friends and rejuvenated her spirit. 

Above: An intricate brooch made of beads and corn husks on the cedar hat of Chehalis Tribal member Bonnie Bush glimmered in the sunlight Friday morning.