As it celebrates its first centennial this summer, Volunteer Park is at a historic crossroads. On May 31, 2012, the Friends of Seattle’s Olmsted Parks (FSOP) hosted a meeting of Capitol Hill citizens, businessmen and park neighbors at the Seattle AsianArt Museum to garner support and feedback for creating a trust to manage and maintainVolunteerPark. As past president of FSOP, I was one of four presenters at the well-attended event, and the proposal was greeted with enthusiasm. Capitalizing on momentum from the park’s designation as a City landmark last fall, FSOP has been working closely with the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation (SPR) and the Seattle Parks Foundation in recent months to explore the concept, which addresses five pressing needs facing the park.
First, in an era when DPR’s budget for parks maintenance has been cut back severely due to the recession, a trust would assure a dependable and ongoing source of funding and also exceed today’s reduced funding level. Second, within the next two years the reservoir is slated to be de-commissioned or lidded to meet new federal guidelines. Meanwhile, the museum will be closed for well more than a year, and possibly several years, while delayed safety and seismic improvements are made to the structure. Fourth, the Conservatory’s operations funding has been threatened by City budget cuts at a time when a capitol improvement program to replace the aging wood structural skeleton with a new aluminum matrix has been stalled, also for insufficient funds. Lastly, the park is in need of new and replacement planting to restore the layers of tree canopy, understory shrubbery and ground covers that were part of the original Olmsted planting design concept. SPR is currently designing the new plantings, following the original Olmsted planting plan, but there are no funds available for implementation.
Creating a trust could pump new resources and social energy into all five of these separate areas of need by unifying them within an over-arching program to manage the park for the next 100 years. Many synergies are to be had, not least of which is re-activation of daytime and especially summer evening events in the park, such as concerts and plays. Shared programming between the museum, conservatory, band stand and even the water tower could expand enthusiasm for what is actually a miniature cultural center within the park. At the same time, the trust will help foster public awareness that the park itself is the real jewel, not merely its component buildings and institutions.
In the coming months, FSOP and SPR will be studying several models of parks conservancies around the United States to figure out which model works best forSeattle. We will also be working on an even broader goal – to create an Olmsted Trust, covering all the Seattle Olmsted parks and boulevards. It is expected that the Trust for Volunteer Park will be housed within that umbrella organization. If you’re interested in more information or in “Volunteering for the Park,” please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.