Across Steilacoom Boulevard from Western State Hospital is one of the true gems of the South Sound – Fort Steilacoom Park.
The 340-acre park is a hugely popular destination for walkers, runners, bike riders, dog owners, soccer players, baseball players, parents with young children and birdwatchers.
Although the park is located within the city limits of Lakewood, which manages the facility, it draws visitors from all over Pierce County and even beyond, especially for Civil War re-enactments, bike races and other special events.
Pierce County has been sharing the cost of operating and maintaining the state-owned park with Lakewood to the tune of $240,000 a year. But the agreement in effect since 2006 expires this year, and the county’s budget is stretched so thin that it has eliminated services at 16 of its own parks.
Still, the county has an obligation to continue sharing the cost of running this precious regional recreational asset. The alternative would mean Lakewood would have to bear the cost alone, even though many non-residents enjoy its features. Those include the scenic Waughop Lake, more than 10 miles of trails, playfields, a popular children’s playground and a 22-acre dog park with one area for regular to large dogs and a separate one for small dogs.
Fort Steilacoom Park is well-maintained now, but that could change if Pierce County stops sharing the cost. The alternative – charging for driving into the park – was unpopular when it was tried several years ago, and it would be a shame to reconsider the idea.
The park provides so much free enjoyment for a broad spectrum of South Sound residents. Pierce County should continue a funding relationship that has been working well.