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Parks district moves ahead

The showdown never came.

Former parks volunteer John Conte went to Thursday night’s South Kitsap Parks and Recreation District Board meeting with one goal in mind: confront the commissioners and call for the district’s dissolution.

But the commissioners — and the crowd — were ready for him.

After several failed attempts to engage the Board of Commissioners in furious debate, the crowd of more than 40 people — record attendance for any parks meeting — apparently got tired of Conte’s inflammatory remarks.

“Take it outside!” one audience member yelled. “Go home!” shouted several more.

So Conte went home.

Conte’s highly publicized push to dissolve the parks district was just the latest aftershock from the board’s announcement last month that it planned to develop up to 20 acres of South Kitsap Community Park with active recreation uses.

After the first furor died down, South Kitsap residents appeared to split into two groups.

One group sees this plan as evidence the Parks Board is out of control and seeking desperate measures to handle its ever-growing debt.

The other group thinks a public-private partnership to develop parts of the park is a great idea and wonders why the Parks Board isn’t acting faster to make it happen.

The crowd Thursday night seemed largely made up of the latter.

“I’d like to see the board develop some passion over ideas for the park,” said local resident Katherine Simpson. “If you want us to stand behind it, please give us something to get behind.”

Most who spoke that night said the Parks Board’s big mistake was not going out for community support the minute the public-private partnership first got off the ground several months ago.

As evidenced by the huge turnout for the meeting, people are very interested in the park and most said they wanted to be even more involved than they already were.

The interests represented were varied — representatives of community softball teams wanted the development plan to include improved fields, some older folks suggested botanical gardens and better trail accessibility and a few moms spoke in favor of indoor sports facilities.

A group of skateboarders even showed up to ask for a new, sturdier skate park. Others mentioned a climbing rock, better playground facilities, classrooms, a new BMX track, public computers and even a pool.

By the end of the evening, the Parks Board had filled several sheets of paper with audience suggestions for possible park additions. In addition, several in the audience volunteered to help research the feasibility of the different suggestions and report back to the board with a possible facilities plan. The commissioners looked gratified by all the attention and pledges of support.

“The most important thing for us is to hear the sort of things others would like to see in the park,” said board Chair Charlotte Garrido.

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