With fall feeling like summer, Cherri Blackmore headed north for a swim.
The Everett woman chose a familiar spot. She and her sister drove Wednesday to Gissberg Twin Lakes County Park, in the Marysville area just west of I-5.
“The water’s warm,” said Blackmore, 47, after her afternoon dip in the park’s south lake.
Although she’d been swimming there in July, she nearly missed the freeway exit at 172nd Street NE. “We thought we knew where we were going,” Blackmore said. “But with all those stores, it didn’t look the same.”
It doesn’t look the same. It looks brand new, like some other place entirely. Suddenly, two huge stores have brought disorienting change to the recently rural landscape.
In January, land was cleared at what had been Smokey Point RV Park. Now, it’s Lakewood Crossing shopping center.
Last week, a 149,000-square-foot Costco warehouse opened there. A new Target store opens next month. On the heels of those big-box anchors will come a Michaels crafts store, a Red Robin restaurant, Petco, Linens ‘n Things, Best Buy, Office Depot and other retailers.
The shopping center is now part of Marysville. The park to its south remains on Snohomish County property.
Once called Gissberg Ponds, the lakes were never in pristine wilderness. The rectangular, spring-fed lakes were created by gravel excavation when I-5 was built in the early 1960s.
Now, crowds descend on the park as a swimming, picnicking and fishing destination. The north lake is designated for youth-only fishing. Both lakes are stocked with rainbow trout and bass by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Years ago, when our kids were small, we’d go fishing there. We’d find a quiet spot in the trees. The fish were always biting. Although we weren’t far from home, our kids thought they were in the middle of nowhere.
The lakes are a favorite getaway for one Everett mother, who’s unhappy with the development. “It’s sad,” said Dema McKeen, 36. She was at the park Wednesday with her son, Landon.
Carrying a bucket and beach toys, the 4-year-old looked ready for a nap after his day in the sun. “He loves the lake and the sand. We’ve been coming since he was born,” McKeen said.
She’s amazed by the retail growth between Everett and the Smokey Point area. The Tulalip Tribes’ Quil Ceda Village on the freeway’s west side includes a Wal-Mart supercenter, Home Depot and Seattle Premium Outlets. A Kohl’s department store and WinCo Foods will open soon at the new Gateway Shopping Center east of I-5 at 116th Street NE.
McKeen shops at the Wal-Mart, but she’s already discouraged by congestion near the lakes. “We haven’t come as much. Traffic’s going to be really bad,” she said. “And I’m not really a shopper.”
McKeen’s views weren’t shared by two other moms at the park Wednesday. Melissa Farler and Misty Kellkenberg sat with their infant sons on the south lake’s beach.
“I don’t feel the stores disturb the lakes. They’re already crowded on weekends,” said Kellkenberg, 28, of Marysville. “Stores are definitely needed. They bring in more money and more jobs,” she added.
“It’s convenient,” said Farler, 25, of Lake Stevens. “Now you can go to Costco and the lake in one trip.”
I suppose it is convenient, for some. It’s certainly different.
Walking the dirt path, I went between the small lakes. I balanced on a log to cross the narrow stretch of water where they connect.
The constant drone of I-5 fades on the lakes’ western edges, where trees grow tall. If you’ve only seen the place from the interstate, you haven’t really seen it.
Even with Costco next door, even fronted by a freeway, there are peaceful places along the path. There’s a county-owned wetland on the park’s southern border. Overgrown with reedy cattails, it’s a buffer to even more development. There’s also a sliver of bare land to the north, but signs are up – retail space for lease.
I wondered about the park’s future. It won’t be the place it once was. But it made me think of Seattle’s Green Lake and other urban parks. Maybe someday the path will be crowded with pedestrians.
As commerce closes in, open space is more valuable than ever.
Columnist Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460 or email@example.com.