Kristen Hunt spreads fill as Rowan Abbott empties her wheelbarrow in a newly constructed garden bed Saturday afternoon at Eagle Ridge Park in Lake Stevens. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Volunteers building community garden in Lake Stevens

LAKE STEVENS — It took 16 volunteers, 2,430 cubic feet of donated dirt and a busy Saturday afternoon to get the garden beds ready for the season.

There’s much more work to do, but 15 plots at Eagle Ridge Community Garden — the first in Lake Stevens — are prepped for seeds and sprouts.

Volunteers and city staff recently resurrected a plan to improve Eagle Ridge Park. It calls for a garden, and they decided to aim for the largest in Snohomish County. Work is expected to continue this summer and for the next few years.

On Saturday, a group finished 15 of the 79 raised beds that are set to go in this year at 2420 Soper Hill Road. Next year, the goal is to put in 27 more plots that are accessible for people with limited mobility. They’d be higher off the ground, next to paved paths. Eagle Scouts are helping with designs.

The current 4-by-8-foot beds are for rent, $40 a year. The finished ones can be planted now. More are expected to be built during Saturday work parties over the next few weeks. Ten of the beds are designated for gardening demonstrations and to grow produce for the food bank.

Jim Haugen, who became head of the city’s new parks department in 2016, stumbled across the 2010 Eagle Ridge Park plan while settling into the job. The sketches showed a garden. With some help, he figured, one could be built in time for summer.

Supporters had less than a year to pull it together. A record-breaking wet winter slowed progress, but they were determined.

Terry Myer, Lake Stevens Visitor Center coordinator and an avid gardener, jumped in to help lead the project. The Down to Earth Gardening Club took up the cause, and the Snohomish Conservation District helped with planning, teaching and technical advice. Myer has been involved with the conservation district through the Lawns to Lettuce program. She’s grown thousands of pounds of produce for the food bank in her backyard garden.

At Eagle Ridge, Myer hopes gardeners will be able to grow more than 4,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables for the food bank. That’s based on her experience growing food in similar-sized beds, she said.

There are many benefits to community gardens, said Cameron Coronado with the conservation district. They bring healthy food, teaching opportunities, social activities and outdoor exercise. The Lake Stevens garden is a place where people can return to a favorite hobby or get help starting if they’re new to growing food.

Lessons could include low-maintenance gardening, Myer said. It’s possible to grow a lot of food with minimal weeding and watering. She doesn’t want people to be intimidated, even if they’ve never gardened.

“We work full-time, too, and we don’t want to give anyone a reason not to do this,” she said.

The garden is chemical-free, and there are restrictions on plants to avoid varieties that can interfere with other plots.

Local businesses donated thousands of dollars worth of dirt, cardboard for lining beds, seeds, plant starts and fruit trees. Parks workers and longtime gardeners in other cities offered expertise.

“We learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t,” Myer said.

The city upgraded water and electricity at the park to get ready for the garden, Haugen said. It spans about 12,200 square feet of the 28-acre park.

Other improvements are coming to Eagle Ridge, too. In the fall, the plan is to add parking, a new driveway and possibly a play and picnic area.

It’s been a slow start for garden reservations, but the team hopes people will start booking beds as word spreads. Forms for requesting a bed are online at lakestevenswa.gov or can be picked up at City Hall, 1812 Main St.

Volunteers also are needed to build beds on Saturdays. They can contact Haugen at jhaugen@lakestevenswa.gov. It’s a big project, Haugen said, but they have a system now and he expects work to go faster during the next few gatherings.

Myer hopes Eagle Ridge Community Garden becomes a place where people feel welcome. The fences are to keep out hungry deer, she said. For gardeners, the gate is open.

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

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