Ravensdale project will serve 10,000-resident area

What started out as a proposal for a large, regional athletic complex in Ravensdale has been scaled back with the help of a cross-section of rural residents.

What started out as a proposal for a large, regional athletic complex in Ravensdale has been scaled back with the help of a cross-section of rural residents.

Initially, King County Parks officials offered a high-use park with as many as eight ball fields for the green space at the Gracie Hansen Community Center, which is about two miles east of the Four Corners area in Maple Valley.

Everyone in the community recognized there was a need when the project was proposed in 2006, said Rob Nist, a member of the Cedar River Baseball Council. His group represents the local youth baseball organizations like Maple Valley Pony and Little League.

“They did a nice job of getting anyone who wanted to be involved in the process invited to the process,” Nist said. “It’s one of those things where at the start everyone had their own idea of what it should like, and by the end everyone was happy.”

For 18 months, representatives from area youth sports organizations, the Four Creeks Area Council and Friends of Rock Creek met with county officials. Through this process, which wrapped up in June, the community design committee hammered out a master plan that would meet the needs and desires of the various groups.

“They’ve laid it out in such a manner that it’s going to add a lot more flexibility,” Nis said. “There are four fields out there right now – three baseball and one soccer. When it’s done, there will be three baseball and three soccer, so we’re basically adding two new fields.”

For those providing youth sports opportunities, Nist said, it’s critical that more fields are offered.

Maple Valley Junior Football has about 400 kids in its program. There are close to 800 youngsters playing baseball or softball.

Scott Serpa, director of coaching for Maple Valley Youth Soccer Association, said there are 1,600 kids playing in MVYSA.

“About 40 percent of our kids are rural King County residents,” Serpa said. “I’ve lived out this way since 1983. Since that time, the only soccer fields I know of that have been built since in this area are school district fields. Not one King County or city field has been constructed in the past 25 years, yet the population has grown at least five fold since then.”

He said the lack of fields has made it harder for the younger players in MVYSA which serves youth from 5 to 18 years old.

“Our younger teams don’t have any scheduled field time to practice,” Serpa said.”They have to use back yards, private parks and any other piece of grass they can find just to get a little practice time.”

The Ravensdale ball fields will serve more than 10,000 residents in the Ravensdale and Georgetown areas east of Maple Valley.

Serpa stressed that the entire community will benefit from the proposed upgrades.

“Not only will it provide a great place to play soccer, but it has lots to offer a wide range of groups, including baseball, basketball, walkers, runners, picnickers, bicyclists and cultural enthusiasts,” he said.

For Joan Burlingame, a founder of Friends of Rock Creek, said the group formed early in the decade as residents of the community noticed that there was a great deal of proposed development for that area.

“We felt it was a rural area and it didn’t really need any more development,” Burlingame said. “We got a grant from the National Parks Service for a sub-area plan. We looked at every taxed parcel in the 32 square miles of the Rock Creek valley and created the conservation plan.”

That was a significant part of the master plan process for Ravensdale Park, as it offered a perspective of those looking for other types of recreation in the area.

Burlingame said there are three elements to the recreation opportunities in the Rock Creek valley — which Ravensdale Park is adjacent to — as part of the master plan: The ball fields, the open space and a proposed paragliding spot.

“To me, it’s very exciting to see all these elements of the conservation plan,” she said. “The people who live in the area, I think, are going to be absolutely happy and thrilled.”

Nist points out that the master plan is a long-term vision that requires public-private partnership to get it built over three phases.

“If the county were to try to build the project, it would be $12 million,” Nist said. “The private sector in the partnership brings the cost down significantly.”

In phase one, work will be done to upgrade the existing fields with turf on the infields to reduce rain-outs, plus two of the three soccer fields will have overlays on them that will convert them to baseball fields. That will mean as many as five baseball fields available during the spring, Nist said.

In addition to the new ball fields and improvements to the existing fields will be what is known as passive recreation – in other words, open fields and picnic tables, among other things.

“We’re going to have two or three new ball fields,” Burlingame said. “We’re going to have a grassy area where people can have picnics and throw their Frisbees, plus there’s going to be a trail where kids can ride their bikes from Four Corners to the fields without riding on a major road. To me, that’s very exciting.”

The next step will be to raise money.

Nist said the baseball council worked together to kill two birds with one stone by converting some of the interior of the community center into indoor batting cages.

“Gracie Hansen is an underutilized facility, so they offered that to us,” Nist said. “We formed a company called Rock Creek Sports. We’re generating revenues to help fund that part of the park. Now we’ve taken that piece of property that was losing the county money and turned it into a profit-generating enterprise.”

Nist partnered with Mike Anderson and Dave Smart — all three serve as unpaid directors — to create the company which serves as a non-profit. All money generated goes back into a fund to help pay for the proposed renovations and upgrades for the community center and ball fields.

And to further underscore the need for facilities, Nist said that 12 teams came through the indoor batting cages and practice area in the community center last winter – 300 to 400 kids each week.

But the money raised there is just a start. Other organizations need to offer money. Grants will need to be obtained.

“Can we build what we’re trying to build?” Nist said. “That’s the process the county is going through right now.”

Meanwhile, Maple Valley officials are keeping a close eye on the plan. Parks and recreation director Greg Brown said the city is working up to its master plan on its Summit Gravel Pit Site southwest of Four Corners and wants to make sure that it isn’t replicating the efforts at Ravensdale Park.

“The shortage of fields is a regional problem,” Brown said. “The city hasn’t done our part on building fields yet. But now we’re positioned to really begin to build some fields. Whatever you build out at Ravensdale, we need to not build the exact same thing, so we need to coordinate..”

Work on phase one upgrades are planned for the not-too-distant future, Nist said.

“We’re pretty hopeful that we’ll be seeing things happening over at Ravensdale in the first quarter” of 2009, he said.

Serpa said the development of Ravensdale Park is exciting.

“As a member of the Ravensdale Design Committee, we believe the plan that has been adopted will be an amazing park,” Serpa said. “It will be a crown jewel of the area that I believe we will all be proud of.”

Staff writer Kris Hill can be reached at (425) 432-1209 (extension 5054) and khill@reporternewspapers.com