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City sees a bit of its vision become reality

On Tuesday, nearly two years after the idea for a park along Blackjack Creek was first suggested by a city official, the South Kitsap Rotary Club will officially donate to Port Orchard a small piece of what many hope represents the future of waterfront development.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Mayor Kim Abel, explaining that the small, but very welcome, patch of sidewalk with picnic tables and a gazebo hugging the shore is the first new developed piece of park property to be added to the city in some time. “It is a wonderful addition.”

This week, SK Rotary member Mike Savage said club members were still putting the finishing touches on Etta Turner Park, which was named after a South Kitsap High School exchange student sponsored by the club who died in a bus crash in Bolivia in 2002.

Savage, who chaired the club committee that steered the project from start to finish, said the park’s completion was the culmination of years of efforts by his fellow Rotary members, and a sweet reward for those who stubbornly — and many thought perhaps foolishly — believed it could be done.

“We are extremely proud of our achievement. A lot of people didn’t think we could do it,” said Savage. “(The club) had never taken on a project of that size before.”

The idea for the park was first suggested by then City Engineer Larry Curles two years ago when he was approached by club members seeking ideas for a community project to commemorate Rotary International’s Centennial this year.

At the time, park committee member David Latham, who was head of the SK Rotary Club’s Community Service Committee, said once Curles described his idea for ripping out a under-utilized parking lot along the creek and putting in grass, picnic tables and a walkway that would lead to a gazebo, Latham said it sounded exactly like the kind of project the club was looking to tackle, and asked him to draw up a plan.

Ultimately, to pay for the removal of about 80 tons of asphalt, the installation of hundreds of feet of sidewalk, several picnic tables and a gazebo, Savage said the club raised $40,000 by selling commemorative bricks, and the rest of the $60,000 needed came from both monetary and in-kind donations.

“It really is remarkable,” Savage said of the completion of the project. “We are all like proud parents. It may look like just a small strip, but turning a parking lot into a park, and being able to name it after a wonderful young girl, makes us proud.”

Though he said the park is a wonderful addition on its own, Savage said club members also hoped it would inspire similar projects in the future.

“We hoped it would serve as a catalyst for future waterfront development in the city,” he said.

Abel said providing the public more shoreline access has been a part of the city’s vision “for some time — as many as 20 years.”

She said although there were no similar projects currently underway, now that the Port Orchard City Council recently embraced consultant EDAW’s Port Orchard Economic Development plan, the city’s Economic Development Council could be identifying opportunities for more shoreline access points, and some more projects might come from that process.

For now, however, she said she is happy to have the new park.

“It is really a great thing, and amazing all the volunteer hours and donations they received to help create the park,” she said. “We are fortunate to live in such a community that can make this vision a reality.”

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