It all started with saving the pool: Si View Parks District celebrates 20 years

February marks the 20th anniversary of Si View Metropolitan Parks District’s formation

Outside Travis Stombaugh’s office window, you get a clear view of Si View Park with a snow-capped Mount Si prominently in the background.

As executive director of the Si View Metropolitan Parks District, Stombaugh has seen the park transform during his 16-year tenure, calling it as one of their most significant achievements.

What was once old, uneven farmland, he said, is now a smooth pristine 10-acre park, providing ample space for sports fields, playgrounds and a seasonal farmers market.

“I love how Si View turned out,” he said, “how it was really embraced by the community.”

Like the park itself, the Si View Metropolitan Parks District owes its existence to the community, which 20 years ago this month, voted overwhelmingly in favor of its formation.

Today the district supports over 600 programs and manages 900 acres of parks, trails and open spaces. But during its formative years, the district’s creation boiled down to a singular goal – saving the community’s beloved swimming pool.

“The longtime residents were nostalgic about it,” Stombaugh said. “They didn’t want to see it close.”

The pool, still in use today, has been in North Bend since 1938. It has served generations of families and, for much of its life, was one of few recreational facilities in the Valley.

But in the summer of 2002, King County, the owner of the facility, was facing a budget shortfall and announced plans to close the pool and community center by the end of the year. North Bend was offered ownership of the pool, but as a small city, it lacked the tax base to sustain the pool.

Looking to carve out a solution, Joan Simpson, then-mayor of North Bend, convened a meeting of concerned parties and formed the Blue Ribbon Task Force. The group of about seven decided to form a new parks-specific tax district to support a regional pool and community center.

It was an arduous and legally technical process, but their work faced little opposition, recalled Gardiner Vinnedge. A task force member and multi-generational Valley resident, Vinnedge said he both swam and went to Cub Scout meetings at Si View as a child.

“Everyone wanted a solution,” he said of the pool. “The county would have loved to run it, but they just couldn’t afford it.”

The biggest barrier for the new district was drawing its boundaries. They required specific legal descriptions and would need approval from the King County Boundary Review Committee before a new district could be put on the ballot.

Racing against the clock, descriptions pulled heavily on the pre-established boundaries of North Bend city limits and Fire District 38, and were presented to the review board in October 2003.

By that time, the Si View pool and community center had been closed for months with its windows boarded up and nearby ballfields left without maintenance. Vinnedge said they needed approval from the review board that night to get a proposal on the upcoming special election ballot in February.

The meeting did not get off to a reassuring start, Vinnedge recalled. At that point, just two metropolitan parks districts existed in Washington, none of which were in King County. Members of the review board were puzzled by the Si View proposal, he said.

But as approval looked uncertain, one of the board members spoke, Vinnedge recalled, saying: “This pool is all the Valley has. We need to do something tonight.”

The boundaries went on to receive approval. And on Feb. 4, 2003, Proposition 1, the formation of the Si View Metropolitan Parks District, appeared on the ballot, receiving 71% approval.

The parks district’s five initial board of commissioners — Vinnedge, Susan Kelly, Mark Joselyn, Kevin Haggerty and Jeanne Acker — were also elected on that ballot.

When the group finally pulled the boards off the pool’s windows, Kelly recalled that her and Acker putting on wetsuits and hopping into the unheated pool to swim a few celebratory laps.

“When I moved out to North Bend with my family, I thought our pool was so tiny and that I could see myself working on a committee to get a bigger pool,” Kelly said. “But little did I know I was going to be on a committee to help save what pool we had.”

Kelly, who is the current Si View board president and has served on the commission nearly every year since its founding, said the pool and community programs have filled vital needs, providing opportunities for kids and adults to build community.

“I’m a strong believer that good schools and good recreation increase the quality of life,” she said. “[Parents want] their kids swimming and playing basketball and older people like me want a place to play pickleball and ride bikes.”

Since that successful ballot measure, Si View has grown in every way imaginable. Its annual budget has ballooned from under $100,000 to over $4 million, staffing has gone from a single employee to 29 full-time equivalents, and it went from maintaining just Si View Park to now managing over 1,000 acres of land.

Over its two decades there have been challenges too — like the aftermath of the Great Recession, when falling property values nearly decimated the district’s budget, or recent staffing challenges for part-time positions following pandemic-era layoffs.

There has been the burden of getting funding for a new aquatics facility. Two levies put out to voters have each fallen less than 3 points away from hitting the required 60% threshold.

But challenges aside, the district has several promising projects in the wings. They are restoring the 1900s farmhouse at Tollgate Park, improving mountain biking trails at Tennant Trailhead Park and continuing to fill gaps in the Valley’s trail system.

Stombaugh, the executive director, emphasizes the district’s success is a result of listening to what the community wants.

“We pride ourselves on being a parks district driven by the community,” he said. “We’re going to take direction from the community. We’ll continue to do it that way as long as I’m here.”