New trails, dog park and more greet residents at improved Wapato Park

Wapato Park is a much better place now with completion of $4.6 million worth of improvements. Area residents gathered at the South Tacoma park on July 14 for a celebration of the finish of the projects.

Improvements to the park were largely funded with $2 million from a bond measure approved by voters in 2005. This put Metro Parks in a position to obtain matching grants for land acquisition, water quality improvements and water access totaling $728,000. These funds made it possible to purchase and demolish two private homes within the park’s footprint.

The reason there were houses in the park is that the area was developed before Metro Parks was established. R.A. Radebaugh, an early settler in South Tacoma and owner of the Tacoma Ledger newspaper, purchased more than 300 acres in this area. He wished to create a desirable residential district and a park.

His Wapato Lake Park opened to the public in 1889. Like many other prominent Tacoma businessmen, Radebaugh did not fare well during a major recession in the 1890s. He lost most of his property here, but the lake continued to be a popular recreation area.

Shortly after Metro Parks was created in 1907, Tacoma residents began requesting Wapato Lake be added to the park system. In 1920 Horace and Helen Scott donated 20 acres of lakefront property, which was the beginning of Wapato Park.

Demolishing the last two houses allowed for the installation of a path nearly a mile long around the lake. A short distance away, a fully fenced dog park was established. It is split into two sections, one for dogs under 25 pounds and the other for dogs above that weight.

The first phase began in 2006 with a restoration of the pavilion that cost about $1 million. It had been damaged in an arson fire. Insurance covered the majority of the cost to renovate the historic structure.

Last month, crews finished the final phase of work, which included new water lines and restrooms, as well as the trail and dog park.

Jack Wilson, executive director of Metro Parks, said ideas for the improvements were first discussed about 10 years ago. Houses on the south and west side of the lake prevented the agency from owning a continuous connection around the lake. A master plan for the park was created and the passage of the bond measure made the projects possible.

Area residents he has spoken with tell him how pleased they are with the improved park.

Dog owners who visited on July 14 let their four-legged friends run the paces through an agility course set up in the part of the dog park assigned for large dogs.

“The dog park is our best effort to date to develop an off-leash area for big dogs and small dogs,” Wilson remarked.

Others walked the lake loop trail guided by staff from Metro Parks’ Tacoma Nature Center. Casting lessons for children 14 and under were offered on the fishing pier provided by Point Defiance Marina. Guests enjoyed rock, pop and soul cover tunes played by a U.S. Army band from Minnesota.

Among those who visited was Tacoma City Councilmember Joe Lonergan, with his wife and two young sons. Prior to be elected, Lonergan served on a steering committee that advised Metro Parks on what amenities residents wanted in the park. He said removing a parking lot that had been near the lake will help improve water quality, as before fluids that dripped from parked cars made their way into the water.

Water quality has been a problem throughout the park’s history. Some years ago, Tacoma/Pierce County Health Department declared the lake off limits to swimming because the water posed health risks.

“Most of the improvements were geared toward helping the lake survive,” Lonergan remarked. He feels the improvements have created a better atmosphere for visitors to appreciate the lake.

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