Arlington to buy 150 acres for conservation park

ARLINGTON — As a kid, Bill Blake would cut through Hank Graafstra’s dairy farm to get to a sand bar on the Stillaguamish River.

Forty years later, Blake has helped broker a deal with the Graafstra family to make sure kids can forever find a path to the Stilly.

The Arlington City Council is expected to vote tonight to buy nearly 150 acres of the lowland portions of the Graafstra farm for $4 million. The property, including 2.5 miles of riverfront, grows to about 200 acres in the drier summer months.

Uses will include river access, sports fields, hiking trails, seasonal camping and community gardens, said Blake, the city’s natural resource manager and assistant community development director.

“The vote tonight marks a milestone for the city of Arlington,” said Blake, who studied biology in part because of his childhood experiences along the river. “This is a rare occasion for a small city, to get a huge area of green space for a long list of uses. This is visionary.”

Hank and Betty Graafstra plan to carry the note on the deal, requiring an $800,000 down payment from the city, $274,000 of which comes from a state Salmon Recovery Funding Board grant.

The deal also comes with the water rights to the property, which should allow the city to grow and provide its own water to residents well into the future.

“I am truly excited to acquire this important piece of property. It will be our crown jewel,” Mayor Margaret Larson said. “We’re very thankful that Hank and Betty thought of the city and gave us this opportunity. When Hank told us he had a deal for us, he wasn’t joking.”

The Graafstras said over the years they have had many offers and many chances to sell their property.

“We done real well over the years, and I’ve done more in my life than I ever deserved. We want the people of Arlington to get some good out this,” Hank Graafstra said. “It’ll give kids something else to do besides run in the street.”

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Hank, 82, and Betty, 81, grew up in Snohomish County and first met when they were students at Shoultes Elementary School in Marysville. Married for 62 years, they bought their farm on the edge of Arlington in the 1950s from a son of the original homesteader, Jasper Sill.

The Graafstras raised their children on the farm while Hank worked years for the state Department of Social and Health Services.

In 1969, he quit his state job and opened the Country Charm Dairy on his farm. He put in his own bottling plant and delivered his milk within a 30-mile radius.

In its heyday, the Country Charm Dairy had 800 head of Holstein cattle, employed 35 people and sold homemade ice cream from its shop out behind the Graafstra house.

“It was a dream come true,” Graafstra said. “A lot of people thought we would fall on our rear ends, but we ran it for 37 years.”

Betty Graafstra remembers wonderful years of hard work and good play. Her children rode horses, caught bullfrogs to eat for lunch and went swimming in the river.

She also remembers when they learned Hank had cancer, and then when they decided a few years ago to close the dairy.

“Selling the cows just about killed him,” Betty said.

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It didn’t take long for the Graafstras to decide to offer up part of the farm to the city. The acreage had been in the city’s urban growth area since 1995.

“Not every family can afford Seahawks tickets, but everybody can go play down by the river,” Hank said. “Society needs to change. People need that open space. We can’t just keep putting people in prison.”

If in 100 years the city needs to use it only for farmland, that can happen, Blake said.

Until then, the Country Charm Conservation Area will be a place for wildlife habitat and human recreation.

Volunteers will play a key role in developing the park.

“And we’ll just let it flood in the winter,” Blake said. “All the uses we have planned are compatible with the natural process. The eagles will fly, the fish will swim and the kids will play.”

Working the last five years to negotiate the purchase for the city has been a special project, Blake said.

“For me, being a kid and playing here, becoming a biologist because of that and then getting to tie this all up, well, it means a lot,” Blake said. “It’s about the quality of our lives in Arlington. We’ll be able to share that country charm character with generations to come, and you can’t put a price on that.”

Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; gfiege@heraldnet.com.

Vote planned

The Arlington City Council meets at 7 tonight to vote on the purchase of the Country Charm Conservation Area. The meeting is in the council chambers, 110 E. Third St. A vote to annex the property is scheduled for a later date.

Future park

The Country Charm Conservation Area and Park could be used for:

n Outdoor education

n Nature trails and wildlife viewing

n Sports and recreation fields

n Summer campground

n Swimming beach

n Community garden

n Food bank garden

n Fishing pond for kids

n Off-leash pet area

n Festival use and parking

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