by MATTHEW NASH
When and if funding becomes available, the City of Sequim’s 45-acre Joseph L. Keeler Memorial Park, near the intersection of U.S. Highway 101 and Happy Valley Road, could include a lot more than a scenic walk.
The property was purchased in April 2008 for $806,610 with one stipulation: The city had to keep the land as a passive park. That soon may change, opening up new opportunities for the land and perhaps providing a greater bang for the bucks spent by the city.
City officials met with Joe Keeler, former land co-owner and grandson of Joseph L. Keeler. He agreed that the park’s eastern half could be active, similar to Carrie Blake Park, and include a variety of amenities, such as picnic areas, playfields and a playground.
When Keeler and his sister, Carol Bolduc, sold the land to the city, they thought it would be best to keep the property as a passive park, similar to Robin Hill Farm County Park. It would be used to maintain and promote wildlife.
He changed his mind after being impressed by Sequim Family Advocates’ efforts toward building playfields in the city’s Water Reuse Park.
“If there’s a need for more play areas and it works at Carrie Blake, then why not at our park?” Keeler asked.
“Those things are important for kids and they need things of a positive nature. Any kind of use that’s compatible with a city park and helps bring people to a park is good all around. It wasn’t hard at all to have a change of heart.”
Paul Haines, public works director; Jeff Edwards, city parks manager; and Roger Fell, Sequim Parks Advisory Board member, all sat in the meeting with Keeler.
“It’s a relief that we can now use the land for more than just walking your dog,” Edwards said.
City officials say their first priority is to pay off the remaining debt. Unless funds are forthcoming from another source, they will probably put off further development of the park until the bond is retired.
The city owes slightly more than $415,000 on Keeler Park, with an annual payment of about $82,000 made to Cashmere Valley Bank. Tentatively, the land will be paid off in December 2016. A grant from Ducks Unlimited paid $200,000 in July 2010 toward the purchase. City Attorney Craig Ritchie said that grant would be unaffected if a portion of Keeler Park were to be converted to an active park because the wetlands at the site would remain undisturbed, thus complying with the guidelines.
Edwards anticipates the parks advisory board will finish the park’s master plan proposal before the end of the year for city councilors to approve.
Fell, who was appointed lead in the parks advisory board on Keeler Park matters, said he plans to work with Edwards on the park’s financing proposal. He said funding might come from city-applied grants and/or other agencies like Sequim Family Advocates seeking playfields.
City’s next steps
For now, building even simple amenities such as a parking lot on the property seems unlikely.
Edwards said people are still free to walk the park but the nearest parking area is a private gravel lot on the east side of Happy Valley Road, where he legally can’t recommend people park. If funding does become available for a lot, it would be just inside the park’s entrance.
City staff said selling Keeler Park doesn’t appear to be an option. Ritchie said the city could sell the property but conditions exist that it must remain passive. However, he said, the buyer/seller always could amend the contract.
Keeler seems set on his grandfather’s land staying close to its current look.
“I don’t have a hard time looking down the road decades. If it wasn’t (purchased) now, then the opportunities are missed to keep land as parks and open spaces,” Keeler said.
Edwards said he’s counting on Keeler Park being on the citizens’ parks and recreation survey in April.
Contact the City of Sequim at 683-4139 or visit www.ci.sequim.wa.us.