Stanwood works to keep park clean and crime-free

STANWOOD — This year, Church Creek Park is staying open.

That means a few winter setbacks for people trying to clean it up. There’s been graffiti on the shelter, dumpster and trees, along with tire tracks from intentional spin-outs in one of the grassy areas.

But opening the park at 27116 72nd Ave. NW is a step forward in a campaign to reclaim it from crime. Neighbors, volunteers and officials with the city and police department hope to boot out vandals and draw more people to the park with new activities.

Church Creek Park, which spans 16.5 acres, faces ongoing problems with vandalism, Stanwood police Chief Rick Hawkins said. There also have been concerns about drug and alcohol use, reckless driving and loud, vulgar language from some groups of parkgoers.

In the past, the city closed the park during the winter to discourage crime. With dark mornings and evenings, winter seems to be the worst time for criminal activity there. During the summer, more families are around and the baseball field is a spot for Little League practice and tournaments, Hawkins said.

Closing the park punishes everyone for a few poor decisions, he said.

“I don’t think closing it’s the answer,” he said. “It’s a combination of volunteers and people who use the park who are helping us take this back.”

Take Back the Park is an effort that started in February with a mural created by Lincoln Hill High School students. The seven Stanwood teens painted a 10-by-4-foot design as part of a volunteer effort called Project STAND.

Work on the park is gaining momentum with clean-up crews, brush clearing and tentative plans to replace structures and install new equipment.

Five local disc golfers have suggested a Church Creek Disc Golf Course, and the City Council is expected to review the $8,000 proposal soon. Leaders already have flagged $125,000 for other improvements to the park in the 2015 and 2016 budgets, including new bathrooms and a shelter.

Disc golf is a game in which people throw Frisbee-like discs from a designated tee into a basket a few hundred feet away in the fewest throws possible.

“It doesn’t overtake the park, it’s just kind of integrated,” said Erik Bade, a disc golfer who lives near the park. “And it’s free. Anyone can play regardless of age, ability or income.”

Having more to do at the park could attract people who treat the space with respect, putting pressure on vandals or drug users to leave, he said. It also offers something fun and new for people in the Stanwood-Camano area.

Bade is asking the city to fund nine baskets, tees and some professional brush and tree removal. People also can donate online at to pay for higher-end equipment and other course improvements, he said. So far, the campaign has netted more than $5,500, including a large pledge from Process Solutions in Stanwood.

If the City Council approves the plan and funding, the course could be ready by April.

“I was at the park and thought, man, this would make a great disc golf course,” Bade said. “And we need to clean up the problems there. We just need the traffic.”

For now, city maintenance crews are at the park regularly, painting over graffiti or fixing equipment. That work has been bolstered by volunteer efforts, said Trevor Harrison, head of the city’s parks crew. Along with the mural artists, several groups have organized work parties to clean up the park. In August, a group from The Grove Church in Marysville spent about a week helping out.

Mostly, though, it’s the city’s three-person parks team that works day-to-day to keep up with repairs and maintenance at Church Creek Park.

“We check it daily, every morning when we open the park, to see if there’s anything that needs fixed,” Harrison said.

There often is. Recently, vandals broke a bench off a picnic table, destroyed a barbecue and painted white symbols on trees.

Most of the problems seem to happen right before and after school, Hawkins said. Not all of the culprits are students, but a number of them appear to be teenagers with easy access to the park from nearby high schools.

The best way people can help clean up the park is to spend time using the space as it was intended, Hawkins said. The park has a playground, baseball field, basketball hoops, picnic shelter, restrooms, open grassy space and wooded paths. Project STAND’s colorful mural crowns a natural grassy amphitheater. A quote painted on the mural reads: “The world is but a canvas to our imagination.”

The creativity and dedication of volunteers has been heartening, Hawkins said.

“We’ve had some setbacks, I’ll say that,” he said. “Obviously, we’re going to win it.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439,

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