More than 100 Issaquah residents gathered at the site of the former Tolle Anderson farmstead on Thursday, Aug. 26 to hear about plans for the Issaquah Creek confluence park project, and to give their thoughts on how the 15.5-acre plot should be developed.
While the discussion included comments about adding toilets and what the bridge over the creek should look like, the two focal points were embracing the history of the site and preserving the area’s natural habitat.
The Berger Partnership is the landscape architecture firm chosen by the city to prepare a master site plan, and they led the discussion and breakout sessions at the meeting. But they are not the only players in the park development. Berger has partnered with Bola Architecture, a design and planning firm that focuses on preserving historic buildings, and Anchor QEA, an environmental firm specializing in habitat restoration.
After the initial introductions and brief speeches by the firm representatives, participants were directed into breakout groups to discuss in greater depth what they would like to see in their new park.
One of the recurring themes that came out of these community brainstorm sessions was the preservation of Issaquah’s agricultural roots. Residents offered a variety of ways to embrace the historically significant Anderson and Ek farmsteads. They suggested developing a living history element to the park, showing agricultural methods of the past, or exploring ways of safely incorporating historical farm equipment.
“The park needs to be the touchstone of these two farms,” said Bola founder Susan Boyle, adding that the area between the Anderson house and barn, traditionally the “work area” of the farm, could be used to teach food canning or traditional art classes.
The Ek family moved to Washington from Sweden in the 1880s, building the house on the corner of NW Holly Street and Rainier Boulevard NW in 1894. The family occupies an important part of the area’s early history. One daughter was in the first Issaquah High School graduating class. Another, Victoria, was the first female city official.
The Eks had been friends of the Andersons before settling in Issaquah. Tolle Anderson, having once owned 160 acres at Echo Lake, west of Snoqualmie. He built the barn and farm house west of Rainier Boulevard in the early 1900s, and by 1920 had developed what writers of the day referred to as a “fine bearing orchard.”
The Anderson name, too, is an important part of the city’s development. In 1916 Tolle Anderson sold the hay, grain and feed business he had started to The Grange. Anderson’s milk condensing company eventually grew into Darigold, one of the region’s most vital employers.
Before Anderson built his home there, the site, which will now be a place of recreation and relaxation for all residents and visitors, was the site of Issaquah’s first mill.
Several Issaquah residents also expressed their desire that the confluence park embrace its natural surroundings. One person suggested edible landscaping, while others mentioned preserving the Issaquah Creek habitat and the surrounding riparian ecosystem. Many participants spoke of creating walking trails through the park, focusing on connecting any new paths to existing ones.
A soft child’s voice spoke up at one of the tables. “I want trails that don’t disturb the animals,” she said, stating what many feel should be the goal of any nature-focused park.
What became clear from this gathering is that this open space will not be a playground, yet it won’t be a museum either. Based on comments from Issaquah residents, and the firms hired to develop plans, it should become a place where people can go into, explore and enjoy.
“This can be your Central Park,” said Guy Michaelsen of The Berger Partnership, alluding to New York’s 843-acre icon of greenery. “What we’re here for is to listen to you.”
Some member of the Central Issaquah Plan Advisory Task Force, which is in the process of drafting a blueprint for long range planning on the valley floor, have called for the eventual extension of the park north to Gilman Boulvard, and south as far as property ownership will allow.
The next chance for public input is on Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. at Tibbetts Creek Manor. At that time, concerned citizens will be able to look at some of the park design options and provide feedback on whether these alternatives capture the suggestions from the Aug. 26 gathering.