THE FUTURE OF BONNEY LAKE PARKS, PART II: Recreation Center, Ball Fields or Trails?

Even with a finalized Parks Plan, Bonney Lake still has big decisions to make when it comes to the future of outdoor recreation in town.

On May 7, Bonney Lake will host it’s first ever , an opportunity for citizens to voice what kind of future they want to invest in, when it comes to parks and recreation.

The Bonney Lake City Council is considering putting a parks bond on the ballot in 2013, asking citizens to approve a $38.5 million plan for a future sports complex, park development, trails and a recreation center, as mapped out in the Parks Plan, which has been approved.

Out of that $38.5 million, $32 million is still needed to pay for it. The city has identified how much it will cost to fulfill the Parks Plan, but the amount of the bond will most likely be smaller and piece-meal, based on priorities. That amount has yet to be determined by council.

Before any measure hits the ballot, city leaders want to hear from citizens whether or not a bond would be popular and approved.

Part I of our series on the Parks Plan broke down the city's four essential goals in future park development and how a voter-approved bond could affect the average taxpayer. Read Part I . Part III examines how the city would use taxpayer dollars to fund the project. Read Part III .

In Part II, we look at the debate of YMCA versus community center and plans for ball fields and trails:


While Bonney Lake maps out plans for future parks and recreation, an important element still hasn’t been determined – whether a community center or YMCA will be the centerpiece of the whole project. 

A Bonney Lake YMCA is still on record as part of the city’s development plans, but after the and Bonney Lake appealed it, excitement toward a future YMCA in Bonney Lake may have cooled. While for more sewer capacity, the threat of hitting the breaks on Sumner’s YMCA may have pulled planners and city leaders in another direction.

 “I haven’t heard anything official has changed with the YMCA, but our thoughts on it may have,” said Bonney Lake mayor Neil Johnson.

Bonney Lake has been on the Pierce County YMCA growth plan for some time and Michelle LaRue, communications director for the Pierce County YMCA, said that has not changed.

"Our long-range plan has always included a YMCA in Sumner and a YMCA in Bonney Lake. The demand for YMCA services in East Pierce County is incredibly strong and as both communities continue to grow, we want to ensure everyone has access to the Y," said LaRue. "A specific timeline for a Bonney Lake YMCA depends on funding. We have raised $7.47 million for a YMCA in Sumner, and plan to break ground next year. We look forward to continuing to build our relationship with the City of Bonney Lake."

Gary Leaf, facilities and special projects manager for Bonney Lake, created the Park Plan with either a YMCA or community center in mind and displays both options equally in his project.

“The current city council has not been polled on their thoughts of a community center versus a YMCA,” said Leaf. “And the old council… even they were split. I honestly don’t know what they will decide.”

Councilmember Randy McKibbin still stands behind the plan for a YMCA.

“I don't think my support for the Y has shifted. It is and has always been what is best for Bonney Lake. At this point we need to keep our options open,” said McKibbin. “We have land at the WSU forest set aside and $1 million earmarked to get things going in either direction.”

Newly elected councilmember Katrina Minton-Davis has “mixed feelings” on the idea of a YMCA, she said.

“Bonney Lake spent a good amount of money doing research for the YMCA. I'm not ready to throw that money away,” said Minton-Davis. “My reason for supporting a YMCA was because they would manage the center and take the responsibility out of the city's hands.”

If a YMCA came to Bonney Lake, it would not tap into city budget or drain taxpayer resources, unlike a community center, which, if owned and operated by the city, would depend on an annual subsidy from taxpayers.

Another option would be for Bonney Lake to build a facility and find another outside organization to run it.

“I believe the most prevalent thinking is that the city would construct and own the community recreation center, but contract for its operations and maintenance,” said Bonney Lake city administrator Don Morrison. “The Mayor and Council do not want to run the center as a city operation. The YMCA would be the most likely operating company. They have done that with other centers.”

Members of the YMCA would be at the mercy of membership dues and fees; if Bonney Lake builds a community center, residents would likely pay a drop-in fee, rather than a monthly membership payment.

Any future facility would depend on a voter bond to make it a reality.

“Either way, a YMCA or community center is a very expensive project and it will need a large amount of support to make happen. The upcoming Parks Summit is going to be a way to find out what the community is willing to support in spending,” said councilmember Katrina Minton-Davis.

The YMCA has agreed to fund 25 percent of facility building costs, if voters came up with the remaining 75 percent. Once built, the YMCA would cover all ongoing costs.

Sumner has raised $7.4 million toward its $10 million YMCA goal. While Bonney Lake has pledged $1 million toward its facility, the Bonney Lake community has had a difficult time raising more funds.

“The YMCA doesn’t tap into the city’s budget, but they have said they won’t come here unless there is a voter measure to fund a vast majority of the [construction] budget,” said Leaf. “There just isn’t the donor base here that there is in Sumner.”

A center that would meet the needs of Bonney Lake residents would likely cost $14.5 million over the next 15 years, according to the Park Plan.

“What the city really wants and needs is a partner and that partner doesn’t necessarily have to be the YMCA organization,” said councilmember Mark Hamilton. “We need the best bang for our buck because even with subscription fees and user fees, it will cost the City of Bonney Lake almost $600,000 per year to provide the services and programs that are being proposed […] With another public or private organization running the facility, that $600,000 is their responsibility and not Bonney Lake taxpayers.”


Bonney Lake has identified 28 acres in the WSU Forest as the future site of Midtown Park, with 5 acres designated for a YMCA.

A full-blown sports complex needs 10-20 acres of land, and a YMCA or community center would require between 10-15 acres, said Leaf.

“I do not believe that 28 acres is enough for a sports center and complex,” said Leaf.

There are 20 acres surrounding the designated acreage that have potential for city purchase. The property owners – Quadrant and WSU – have indicated that they would be willing to consider selling it for market value, said Leaf. But, there has been no official discussion on how much additional land would need to be purchased in order to fulfill the city’s future needs.

The cost of purchasing more acreage hasn’t been determined, but the land’s estimated value is $200,000 per acre, according to a market study from 2004-2005.

“The market has gone down quite a bit,” said Leaf. “The prices are low, the ground is level and the area is not very controversial – the trees are already gone.” 

FIELDS OF GREEN: HOW BALL FIELDS COULD TRANSFORM BONNEY LAKE'S BUSINESS CORE                                                           

Mayor Johnson sees a future of green – athletic sports fields and parks in Midtown connected by sidewalks through Bonney Lake that bring economic development to town.

“When it’s all done, people can go talk a walk and pick a park,” Johnson said.

Ballfields and an outdoor sports complex have been labeled a priority in the Parks Plan. Local kids and parents have expressed for years that more outdoor recreation is in high demand.

As a coach and athlete, Johnson sees the value of using a sports facility to build a deeper sense of community and as a source of revenue for Bonney Lake.

“Sporting facilities bring economic development to cities... they pay for themselves over time. It would help our local business and restaurant core. Think of 60 teams stuck here for 2 days – that’s 1,000 extra people here,” said Johnson.

Leaf, who has toured parks and recreation facilities all over the South Puget Sound, said that an outdoor complex like Celebration Park in Federal Way or in Gig Harbor would be the ideal model for Bonney Lake.


The Fennel Creek watershed is an 8-mile track of land that blends Bonney Lake into unincorporated Pierce County. The naturally astounding slice land includes Victor Falls and is the largest of eight tributaries in the Mid-Puyallup River Basin.

Bonney Lake wants to create a multi-use trail along Fennel Creek, but at the tune of $1 million per mile, the plan is far from fruition.

“The reason it’s so expensive is because it is an environmentally-sensitive area. And, we don’t own all the land there, so we’d have to buy it,” said Leaf. “And $1 million per mile is just the construction cost. Once you include environmental mitigations and land acquisition, you’re looking at $10 million for 7 miles of trail. It’s going to take a long time to get that kind of money together.”

To Mayor Johnson, it makes more sense to build a sports facility complex first, then build trails using the tax revenue a sports complex could generate.

“Once you start building parks, trails could get built around them,” said Johnson.

Many in Bonney Lake would still rather see more money spent on trails than sports fields, including councilmember Hamilton.

“As a councilmember and citizen, I want far more trails in Bonney Lake. Now, don’t get me wrong – we need more ball fields, but I lean towards trails, especially the Fennel Creek trail that been proposed,” said Hamilton. “Trails are for all age groups and many different types of outside activities. When my wife and I with our friends walk the Foothills Trail in Orting, we see young and old on bikes, as walkers and runners. Trail walking gives people an activity either alone or in small groups and is done in all types of weather. Trails are for family pets too and they are inexpensive to maintain. Trail operation and maintenance is a third of the cost on the taxpayers as some sports fields.”

Former park board member and Fennel Creek Preservation Group member Fred Jacobsen wrote a blog on the importance of Fennel Creek to the future development of Bonney Lake. Read that here.

Leaf agreed that whatever plan gets developed first, it must be inclusive of all age groups.

“If we only focus on ballfields, we are focusing on kids, who don’t vote,” said Leaf. “We have to have something in there for adults and seniors, too.”


When it comes down to the future of Bonney Lake parks and recreation, the studies have been finalized but the voice of the people has yet to be fully heard. Hence, the Summit.

“Now, we will be asking citizens to support parks out of their pocketbook.  Citizens may change their mind about what's important,” said Minton-Davis. “I liken it to dealing with my kids. There are a number of things they tell me they want, but when they actually have to pay for half, their priorities change.”

It is time for Bonney Lake citizens to look at their dreams, even during hard economic realities, and think about what will be a priority and make a successful voter bond in 2013.

“I would ask citizens to look at the future of the city, what the needs are and go for it,” said Johnson. “[The Parks Plan] will make the area stronger, with more livability, and people wanting to be here and build a stronger community.”


Stay tuned for Part III of our series, where we will look at funding and management options for the Bonney Lake Parks Plan.

Jill Cartwright May 06, 2012 at 01:12 AM
How many individuals and families leave Bonney Lake each day to spend time outdoors in a safe environment without having to worry about cars and traffic lights just so they can walk, run, ride their bike, walk the dog or push a stroller on the Rails to Trails in Buckley, South Prairie and Orting? What else is accessible 24 hours a day and can be enjoyed by every single person in their community where there are no membership fees, no uniform to buy, or reservation to make. A trail has the least amount of impact to its surrounding environment, there are no lights to turn on or buildings to heat, it has unlimited access and gives citizens an alternative to driving everywhere; they could now be connected with various parts of the city by their own power. A trail actually helps build a healthier community; physically and mentally. It gets people outside, interacting with one another and making them more aware of their surroundings, their city; their community. Bonney Lake has lost its’ public bus transportation, a trail would help provide options for those trying to get from one place to the other. Parts of the Fennel Creek Trail parallel the historical Naches Trail, where pioneers the likes of Ezra Meeker, the Kelley’s and the VanderMark’s once traveled by covered wagon with their families from the Midwest and homesteaded in the area. The Fennel Creek Trail would accentuate this historical landmark and possibly attract people to the city because of it.
Jill Cartwright May 06, 2012 at 01:14 AM
It is my understanding that the Bonney Lake City Council has already adopted the Fennel Creek Trail Plan back in 2007. This is a plan that has already undergone extensive Environmental reviews, and it is ready to be implemented, with grants, property acquisitions and easement agreements in place. I do not know how accurate Gary Leaf’s numbers are but a cost of $10 million for 7 miles of trail seems quite high with all the work that’s already been done.
Lady Hawk May 06, 2012 at 05:03 PM
Outstanding, Jill! Thousands of people drive by Fennel Creek and Victor Falls every day, but most don't see it or even know it exists. When given the opportunity to get out of your car and access one of the primary tributaries of the Puyallup River, you can see what an incredible water course it is as it meanders through the heart of Bonney Lake. Fennel Creek offers a wonderful natural corridor that is perfect for the proposed trail. By providing public access with a trail system, we increase the public awareness of this gem which results in people wanting to preserve this natural and historic area. Is that what some city officials are afraid of........citizen concern and advocacy?
Fred Jacobsen May 06, 2012 at 05:30 PM
During Bonney Lake’s Family Fun Fest, held at Mountain View Middle School from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm on Saturday, May 5th, most of the families that I talked to were looking forward to the day when Bonney Lake has trails. Today it’s not safe for kids to try and get from one part of the city to another on bike, or foot, so most parents have to load them into the car and take them. They’d like the opportunity to know that the kids are safe traveling on a trail and aren’t going to be run over on one of our narrow roads. Many mothers also commented about not taking the kids out in their strollers because they’re forced to walk in the middle of the road. Bottom line is that most that wanted to walk, bike, etc. with family, either went up to Buckley and used the trail there or went down to Orting and joined the trails down there and all were looking forward to trails in Bonney Lake.
Jason February 21, 2013 at 02:53 AM
Bonney Lake has more then enought ball fields. My wife and I have two small children, we are looking for a YMCA that can offer things for our whole family. Swimming, classes, and working out. Not just a ball field, trails, or community center for children to be dropped off. Bonney Lake need family activites! I wish I had the money to open one up myself. As for Federal Ways Ball Park, I grow up there, that place is alway empty. What a waste of land.


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