A paddleboarder floats on Lake Ballinger on Tuesday in Mountlake Terrace. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A paddleboarder floats on Lake Ballinger on Tuesday in Mountlake Terrace. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Decade after golf course closed, Ballinger Park taking shape

Mountlake Terrace is spending millions to revamp the former nine-hole course into a regional lakeside park.

MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Ken Courtmanch can still point out the locations of greens and tee boxes at what used to be Lake Ballinger Golf Course.

Some remnant features are obvious. The verdant green behind the Mountlake Terrace Community Senior Center building is in decent shape, aside from some mole mounds.

Others, such as the green just east of Hall Creek from the senior center so sandy that without consistent watering grass struggles to grow, need Courtmanch’s experience to point out.

A bench is near one tee box close to a fishing pier.

It’s been a while since anyone played a round there.

A decade ago, Mountlake Terrace city leaders changed the property’s decades-long use as a golf course into the sprawling lakeside Ballinger Park.

Courtmanch started as a part-time city employee tasked to the golf course in 1986 and now is Mountlake Terrace’s parks and facilities superintendent.

“I spent many, many hours mowing here,” he said.

A family walks along a new paved path Tuesday through Ballinger Parkin Mountlake Terrace. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

A family walks along a new paved path Tuesday through Ballinger Parkin Mountlake Terrace. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Today the tee boxes are just unusually flat areas not far from the water’s edge. Sand bunkers are depressions filled in with grass and shrubs among the rolling slopes. Moguls look out of place.

Recent rain flooded parts of the lake, spilling into former water hazards that now are refuges for ducks, otters and turtles.

The property has come a long way from its days as a nine-hole municipal golf course.

Mountlake Terrace bought the property in 1970 with a state grant covering most of the $439,410 cost. The city operated the course for decades until it contracted with a company to run it in 2005. The company walked away from the deal in November 2012.

Lake Ballinger was one of the most popular nine-hole courses in the country, with over 61,000 rounds played in 1987.

But its popularity waned over the following decades as more courses opened, including the neighboring Nile Shrine Golf Course which had been private.

By 2012, rounds dropped to 16,000.

Water pours out of a stormwater basin Tuesday into Lake Ballinger in Mountlake Terrace. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Water pours out of a stormwater basin Tuesday into Lake Ballinger in Mountlake Terrace. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

The golf course was underwater, financially and literally.

Being lakeside gives the property a high water table.

The lake and park also serve as the watershed basin for an area that includes Edmonds, Lake Forest Park, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Shoreline. Given the amount of rain through fall, winter and spring, it could swamp large swaths of the course.

“It was underwater for several months of the year, and you couldn’t use it as a golf course,” Mountlake Terrace Mayor Kyoko Matsumoto-Wright said. “As a non-golfer, I would just wonder.”

Matsumoto-Wright was on the council when it decided to end golf course operations and begin envisioning its use as a park. During one visit to the property with staff she wore regular shoes and quickly regretted it as the peat-laden ground sagged and water gushed in, she said.

The state money used to purchase the property meant it had to stay recreational.

An angler prepares to cast a fishing line Tuesday along the shore of Lake Ballinger in Mountlake Terrace. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

An angler prepares to cast a fishing line Tuesday along the shore of Lake Ballinger in Mountlake Terrace. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

“If it’s underwater all the time, you don’t really want houses there,” she said. “We didn’t want houses there either.”

After a decade as a park and almost eight years with a master plan, pieces of the city’s vision for the property are becoming reality.

Estimated costs when the plan was adopted for all the projects amounted to over $13 million. The city does it in parts as funding is available.

There’s a new boat launch and fishing pier — which seemed popular this week with anglers looking to reel in bass, perch and trout; a paved and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant 1,550-foot trail that connects the city’s boat launch to the athletics fields and senior center; and a playground designed for children with disabilities, to use alongside their peers, that’s set to open this spring or summer.

And there’s more change planned for Ballinger Park.

People visit Ballinger Park to walk, fish and see birds and wildlife. Soon they’ll be able to use a playground designed for children with disabilities. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

People visit Ballinger Park to walk, fish and see birds and wildlife. Soon they’ll be able to use a playground designed for children with disabilities. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

First is the realignment of Hall Creek, one of the main contributors to the lake. Today, it’s pretty much a chute, straight and narrow, that “looks like a ditch that somebody dug out,” Mountlake Terrace Recreation and Parks director Jeff Betz said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is taking the lead on the project set to begin this summer and conclude in spring next year. Work includes moving the creek so it meanders and slows the water’s flow, replacing invasive plants with native vegetation and building a boardwalk over a typically swampy area of the park.

“This is going to build a place for turtles, salamanders and small mammals in the park,” Mountlake Terrace stormwater program manager Laura Reed said.

The federal agency awarded the $5.5 million contract to Tunista Construction of Federal Way. The city is covering about $1.8 million, with another $1 million from a state grant.

Mountlake Terrace is designing a boardwalk and viewing platform, estimated to cost $1.3 million, that could be built during summer next year. Those plans include a new entrance and paved path from the Interurban Trail along the west side of the park.

New bathrooms opened in early 2022 at Ballinger Park near the boat launch and fishing pier in Mountlake Terrace. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

New bathrooms opened in early 2022 at Ballinger Park near the boat launch and fishing pier in Mountlake Terrace. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)

Beyond that, the master plan has several other ideas for the property. A native plant orchard. Paved terrace at the clubhouse. Bathrooms near the athletic fields.

Matsumoto-Wright and other city leaders hope to leverage the natural amenity for residents and visitors to enjoy. It’s about 1 mile away from the Mountlake Terrace Transit Center and the light rail station set to open within two years.

“Today they’re walking Green Lake, hopefully someday they’re walking in our park,” Matsumoto-Wright said.

Ben Watanabe: 425-339-3037; bwatanabe@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @benwatanabe.

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