On his initial trip to the serene Clark Lake Park on Kent’s East Hill, Dow Constantine reacted like most first-time visitors.
“It is spectacular,” the King County executive said as he stood on a dock looking toward the lake. “It’s really impressive.”
Constantine visited Clark Lake Park on Jan. 25 with Kent Mayor Dana Ralph to announce a $2 million county grant to the city. The money will help the city pay for the final piece of property it acquired and give it control of all the land surrounding the lake, a long-time vision by city leaders.
“I know it’s been a quarter century or more project for the city of Kent,” Constantine said after taking a short hike to the lake from the parking lot at 12520 SE 240th St. “That is a real credit to the continuity of leadership here and the generations of leaders and community members that have seen this through.”
Kent purchased the final 17 acres, which are south of the lake, in October 2022 for $7.2 million from the Ruth family. State and federal grants as well as city funds cover the rest of the price.
King County announced Jan. 25 that 36 projects will receive a combined $52 million in open space preservation funding in 2023. Voters in November 2022 approved a hike in the existing Conservation Futures property tax levy to 6.25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value to conserve 65,000 acres of open space over the next 30 years. The previous rate was 3.12 cents. The owner of an $850,000 home pays about $51 per year to the program.
“The exciting thing to me is we put the question to voters should we restore the Conservation Futures tax to its original rate from when it went into effect decades ago,” Constantine said. “They said by a margin of 70% yes we want to protect more lands and do it quicker.
“We are going to be able to do more of what we are doing today (Jan. 25) in partnership with Kent all around the county in the unincorporated area and the 39 cities.”
Park land vision
Kent city leaders and staff began looking in 1971 at future park possibilities for Clark Lake, according to Deputy Parks Director Brian Levenhagen.
“The vision started 50 years ago,” Levenhagen said. “It took that long and that many mayors and councils and staff to follow through, so it’s a big deal.”
Levenhagen said talks with the Ruth family began in the 1990s. The city previously purchased 10 other properties in its effort to own all the land around the lake.
“This is a really big story for our community that this vision was established decades ago and we have been able to be true to that vision and really see it through,” Ralph said. “Acquiring this last piece feels like the icing on the cake of a lot of work. It’s something our entire community needs to be proud of that this exists in the middle of the sixth largest city in the state.”
If the city didn’t buy the Ruth property, it’s expected a developer would have come in and built houses. That drove up the price of the land.
“In a vibrant space in an urban area this is much tougher to do than in a rural area,” Constantine said. “Rural area zoning might be one resident per 20 acres, so the price is lower and there are more opportunities for joint use. Here you are going to have denser zoning so it costs more, and there are much tougher choices for the property owners so it’s a real credit to Kent they have been able to cobble this together and it will be here for all time.”
Ralph said city leaders kept the initial vision for park land to surround the lake rather than housing developments.
“I don’t recall a time where we said we would not finish this,” Ralph said. “It has been a how’s it going and to continue building relationships with property owners. When the word came out about that final piece (in October 2022), I got multiple phone calls from folks who had been in Kent a very long time and who were overjoyed we had made this assemblage whole.”
The overjoyed included Ralph, who brought her two sons when they were young to the park. The boys even planted trees in the park as part of a school program at the time.
“It is so exciting to know this area is here and is protected and our kids and the next generation and next generation will have access to this beautiful space,” said Ralph, who added she has a photo of Clark Lake hanging in her dining room.”
With the additional 17 acres, the park will have nearly 150 acres and enable parks staff to put in a walking path all around the lake. Levenhagen said staff also will redo the master plan for the park in the next couple of years and get input from residents about what they want in the park.
Much of it, however, will stay the same, part of its appeal.
“It’s protected forever so kids and their kids can watch the ducks swim by, walk on the trails and point out trees they planted,” Ralph said.