Buffalo Park hearkens back to Mill Creek’s beginnings

MILL CREEK — Many here remember when the city was not much more than woods and a small farm where buffaloes roamed.

That was before suburban sprawl swallowed the countryside.

Now a new park boasts a name that is reminiscent of Mill Creek’s rural roots. Buffalo Park opened Friday at 132nd Street SE and 44th Avenue SE.

Buffalo Park was built on top of a stormwater retention tank for a housing project. It features a picnic area with a barbecue and Bocce ball, handball and foursquare courts. There are swings, a spinner, a climbing structure and play equipment that is wheelchair-accessible.

And yes, it was named after actual buffaloes.

“I remember these big, hairy beasts that looked somewhat like cows roaming around there,” said City Councilman Mike Todd.

The city asked people to suggest names for the park last year. Buffalo Park was proposed a handful of times as people recalled the herd that lived on Lloyd and Mary Wibbelman’s farm along 132nd Street SE.

Ruth Brandal, an Everett buffalo farmer, said she got meat from the Wibbelmans before she started raising her own herd in 1992. Brandal wanted to serve buffalo for Christmas dinner, to put an American spin on her family’s holiday tradition.

“What’s more American than buffalo?” she said.

Although Brandal didn’t learn much about the Wibbelman family, she did hear an interesting story about how some of their buffaloes ended up with bizarrely white faces. The usually dark-brown or black creatures rarely end up white or with white on them.

As the tale goes, a Hereford bull once escaped and got together with the buffalo cows, Brandal said. The whiteface gene carried by the Herefords is dominant, so Wibbelman “beefaloes” had the trait for years.

University of Washington researchers later studied the creatures’ ability to cross breed.

Brandal got rid of all but one of her buffaloes, a 23-year-old named Wobble, in 2006. She said she left the business for the same reason as the Wibbelmans.

“Too much development, too close,” she said. “Buffalo and development don’t mix.”

Lloyd and Mary Wibbelman’s son, Dennis, said his parents had problems trying to raise up to 40 buffaloes as more people moved into the area. As suburban sprawl neared the farm, neighbors complained about the animals.

“It just didn’t fit with the Mill Creek style,” Dennis Wibbelman said.

His parents decided to leave the farm they’d raised buffalo on for a quarter century when Walmart wanted to build a new store nearby. The retailer scrapped plans for the 132nd Street SE store in 2007 after a hard-fought, two-year battle with neighbors who opposed the store.

But it was too late for the Wibbelmans. They’d left town.

Despite the buffaloes, Mill Creek was developed “as a massive real estate development,” said David Dilgard, a Northwest historian at the Everett Public Library.

A Japanese company started planning a new community with a golf course as its center in 1973.

The Garhart family in the 1930s bought the 800 acres that was to become the heart of Mill Creek, according to city records. A remnant of the Garhart era is the dam and reservoir they built in 1935, just east of where the Bothell-Everett Highway crosses 164th Street SE.

“Locals call it the duck pond,” Councilman Todd said.

Mill Creek’s core grew from that intersection, historically known as Wintermutes Corner. In the early days, the spot was home to a truck farm that grew produce for the Wintermute grocery and gas station across the street, according to Snohomish County Historic Preservation Commission research.

The Garhart property changed hands a few times before it was developed by the Japanese company, through United Development Corp. The developer hired different builders to build houses so neighborhoods didn’t turn out “cookie cutter,” Todd said.

“They didn’t take shortcuts,” he said. “They had a long-term plan and they slowly developed neighborhoods.”

A powerful homeowner association was created to regulate the neighborhoods. The city of Mill Creek incorporated in 1983.

Today, the 10,000-strong Mill Creek Community Association still controls more than half the neighborhoods and amenities, such as the golf course, parks and nature preserves. The city has more than doubled in size and quadrupled in population since incorporation.

In 2000, the city designated its namesake. The council got state approval to name a small stream Mill Creek. It runs through the site that was developed soon after as the Mill Creek Town Center.

Most of the land in Mill Creek has been developed. Construction is under way on one of the city’s last buildable sites. A mixed-use development known the East Gateway Urban Village includes 302 apartments and townhomes, as well as commercial spaces along the south side of 132nd Street SE east of 35th Avenue SE.

The 1.26-acre Buffalo Park is on top of the development’s stormwater retention tank.

“It’s pretty cool,” Todd said. “It goes to show the clever things city staff was able to do with the developer.”

Amy Nile: 425-339-3192; anile@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @AmyNileReports.

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