For Altaras, her first glimpse of her future house on the lake's north shore was like seeing something from her imagination materialize in real life. Soon, she had moved there from Lake Forest Park.
"I walked in the door and said, 'Oh my God. This is a vision,'" Altaras said.
Ever since, Altaras, the president of the Lake Stickney Conservancy neighborhood group, has been giving back to the lakeside community that fulfilled her dreams. She's a dynamo whose enthusiasm has inspired others to join a long struggle to preserve the west side of the lake as a public park.
Her efforts started in the mid-1990s, when she led successful attempts to block development there. One defeated proposal included 49 houses.
"It's all summed up in one word: passion," she said. "I look at this lake as a living thing. If we don't look out for it, it's going to die."
Conservation efforts at Lake Stickney provide a rare chance to preserve a window of nature in the suburbs north of Lynnwood between I-5 and Highway 99.
Lake Stickney is ecologically valuable because its 24 acres drain into Swamp Creek, which flows into the Sammamish River and Lake Washington. Neighbors feared that building too many condominiums or houses there would have ruined water quality downstream and destroyed wildlife habitat, including that of the endangered chinook salmon.
"We couldn't go in ourselves and say, 'Not in our neighborhood,'" Altaras said. "We had to go in and prove it by law and show this is not the place for this" development.
Over the years, she and nearly 100 other neighbors chipped in for lawyers and experts to counter the development proposals. They spent upwards of $40,000, supplementing their own cash with bake sales and other fundraisers.
"We knew we were going to be fighting the county forever unless we could get it into the public domain, and turn it into a nature park," she said.
By 2008, Altaras and other neighbors in the unincorporated area north of Lynnwood had convinced the county to buy some of the waterfront property previously targeted for development. Today, it's a conservation area known as Lake Stickney Community Park.
Altaras, who retired from a career in computer sales, remains a top supplier of elbow grease to help the county maintain the land.
She's helped put together a couple of work parties every year, cutting back invasive plants and hauling out trash. More than 40 people showed up for this past Saturday toting clippers, rakes and garbage bags. They've had upwards of 100 volunteers at other events.
The Lake Stickney community is among the most active in the county parks system. Snohomish County in 2011 honored Altaras as one of its top volunteers.
"There's just no way we could get everything done without our volunteers," parks director Tom Teigen said.
Countywide, the parks system has logged more than 43,000 hours of volunteer work in each of the past five years, he said.
The future park at Lake Stickney occupies the site of the former Country Gentleman resort. The resort's main restaurant burned down in 1982.
The county's land at Lake Stickney now includes more than 20 acres and is expected to keep growing. A formal park opening ceremony is planned from 10 to 10:30 a.m. Dec. 14.
County Council Chairwoman Stephanie Wright has lent the conservation efforts her political support. She's also contributed her share of volunteer labor.
"Joyce has been joy to work with on this project," Wright said. "This was an area that really needed a park, and thanks to Joyce and the community group, that is now going to be a reality."
The plan is to keep the area for conservation, with nature trails and perhaps a future small playground and off-leash dog park.
Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, email@example.com.
A new park
Lake Stickney Community Park will have a ribbon-cutting ceremony from 10 to 10:30 a.m. Dec. 14 at 13521 Manor Way, Lynnwood, the parking lot on the west side of the lake.
A bake sale to support the park is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dec. 7 at the Lake Stickney Community Clubhouse, 1428 S. Lake Stickney Drive, Lynnwood.
To volunteer at any park within the Snohomish County Park system, contact Tony Trofimczuk at 425-388-6604 or email Tony.Trofimczuk@co.snohomish.wa.us.
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