If you like Swan Creek Park, you’re invited to share your ideas to improve it

Dog park, picnic shelter, ropes course, traffic garden, plus added parking among possibilities to be discussed in public meeting July 12

Anyone interested in Swan Creek Park – a place that has been called the next Point Defiance Park – is invited to join Metro Parks for a summer evening tour and public meeting to consider improvements for a relatively unused portion of the park called the Lister Uplands.

The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. July 12 at the Salishan Family Investment Center, 1724 E. 44th St. After the meeting, Metro Parks staff will lead a walking tour of the area before the sun goes down.

“Now, with the Eastside Community Center close to completion, Metro Parks Tacoma is eager to develop more recreational opportunities nearby,” said Andrea Smith, president of the five-member Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Commissioners. “I’m excited about Swan Creek Park’s potential and the creative ways people can enjoy it.”

The meeting begins a process to update the park’s 2011 master plan, which included a dog park, ropes course, a picnic shelter and additional parking. The focus will be on a portion of the park south of Lister Elementary School that’s crisscrossed by pavement: a vestige of the original Salishan neighborhood, which housed World War II workers and was subsequently demolished.

This part of Swan Creek Park also is north of the park’s 50-acre mountain bike trail system, east of the new Salishan neighborhood and west of the Swan Creek canyon. It’s where recent Metro Parks Mud Runs have taken place.

“This is the first of two public meetings where we will enlist the public in developing a workable plan,” said Kristi Evans, Metro Parks project administrator. “One of the ideas that’s been floated is a traffic garden, where kids on bicycles can learn the rules of the road before they venture out on busy streets.”

Photo by Morf Morford

Photo by Morf Morford

Metro Parks already has earmarked nearly $5 million for the planning and development of the site. The money comes from borrowing authorized by Metropolitan Park District voters in 2005 and 2014, state and federal grants and a donation from the Greater Metro Parks Foundation.

If you are unable to attend but would like to provide input, or would like information, please contact Kristi Evans at (253) 305-1054 or kristie@tacomaparks.com. A survey also will be posted to the Swan Creek Park web page (https://www.metroparkstacoma.org/swan-creek-park ) close to the meeting date.

– Metro Parks


Short history of Swan Creek Park – another Tacoma hidden gem

Local Native Americans used Swan Creek and the surrounding property for hunting and holding councils up until the mid-19th century. At one time the land was a part of the Puyallup Reservation.

In 1886, the reservation system ended and the Puyallup tribe’s property was divided among tribal members.  John Swan was given title to the land along the creek thus lending his name to the creek and surrounding neighborhood for future generations. Over time Swan sold off the property to various buyers. Many of these new owners logged the ravine for the large Western Red Cedar growing there. Evidence of this early logging can still be seen in the Swan Creek canyon.

Another major impact on the Swan Creek area is the gravel quarries established on the east side of the canyon in the 20th century – Tucci, Woodworth, Lige Dickson and Pierce County. The mining activities have left their mark on the canyon – environmental damage, concrete gravel washing structures and utility pipelines.

In 1937, Congress passed the United States Housing Act which provided for the creation of local public housing authorities to provide “decent, safe, and sanitary dwellings for families” and to replace slums using Federal funds. The construction of the new housing provided employment and spurred the moribund construction industry.

On August 16, 1940, the Tacoma City Council created the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA) to implement the Housing Act, but a year later, the five-member board determined that there was no need in Tacoma for low-rent housing. The Housing Authority commissioners did recommend construction of housing for military personnel and war workers. By the summer of 1941, the U.S. was building up its defenses in anticipation of World War II. Thousands were already moving into Tacoma to work at McChord Field, the Mount Rainier Ordnance Depot, Fort Lewis, and in Commencement Bay shipyards. Rents skyrocketed as workers and military families arrived in the area.

In May 1942, the Tacoma Housing Authority accepted the Public Housing Administration commission to build 2,000 units for war workers. The first site chosen was on a hill above the Hylebos Waterway, but a property on Portland Avenue, already served by utilities, promised to be $120,000 cheaper to construct. Pierce County and approximately 30 private land owners sold to the government 465 acres east of Portland Avenue from East 38th Street to East 56th Street. This new housing development was to be named Salishan, to honor the area’s Native American heritage.

Even before construction began, the THA was notified that funding for the project was not going to be adequate to build 2,000 permanent units. The THA negotiated with the Public Housing Administration resulting in the construction of 1,600 permanent housing units and 400 temporary housing units on the site. (Reports differ on the number of housing units actually constructed. Some reports list 1,600 permanent homes and others list 1,200 permanent homes. All agree that 400 temporary homes were constructed.) The temporary homes were to be torn down at the war’s end. Salishan was designed to be a functional neighborhood, not just a temporary living space for war workers.

Unfortunately, due to restrictions on building materials during the war, many of the homes were built of sub-standard materials. In addition, the telephone company was prohibited by the War Production Board from using “any cable or critical materials in connecting new telephone service.” No phones were installed in the units themselves. Instead, several outdoor telephone booths were installed throughout the neighborhood.

The first ten families moved into the new Salishan neighborhood on May 1, 1943 with the official dedication of the site occurring on February 20, 1944.

As families with young children moved into Salishan, they began to tax the capacity of nearby Roosevelt, Sheridan and McKinley Elementary Schools. The federal government paid for the construction of an eight-room school at East 50th Street and Sumner Avenue. Families moving into Salishan continued to boost the number of students there by about 30 children per week. By 1948, building capacity was at 200%. Students were split into morning and afternoon shifts. The School Board began using nearby housing units for additional classrooms.

In August 1948 the School District purchased 5½ acres near the center of Salishan for the construction of a new, larger elementary school. On January 19, 1950, two weeks before the new Lister Elementary School was scheduled to open, a fire raced through the structure destroying it. The ruins were quickly cleaned up and reconstruction begun. The new school was dedicated in October 1950. It was Tacoma’s largest elementary school at the time.

The old Salishan Elementary School building was converted to the Crippled Children’s School in 1953. The school originally housed in the basement of the First Congregational Church at 211 South J Street, provided speech, physical and occupational therapists and teachers for primary and upper grade children with disabilities. The school closed in 1963 and the students were moved to specially constructed classrooms in the new Birney, Steward and Truman schools. In 1972, the school district deeded the property to Metro Parks Tacoma for inclusion in Swan Creek Park.

Following the end of WWII, veterans and military families continued to reside in Salishan housing.  By 1950 6,700 people lived in Salishan.

On May 24, 1951 the Tacoma City Council voted to convert 900 of the 1,600 housing units to low-income housing and demolish the rest of the houses. (The area of the demolished housing still contains the roads where the homes once stood and is part of Swan Creek Park.)

In 1956 the Park District received 52 acres of Salishan property from the Tacoma Housing Authority to be utilized in future park development.

1960 – City of Tacoma Public Works Department proposes using Swan Creek canyon area as a sanitary landfill. Citizens objected but it took years before the city dropped the proposal.

In the late 1950s and 1960s a citizens group called the Swan Creek Conservation and Development Committee formed. They were very interested in developing the area into a park. Public support grew and culminated with the voters of Tacoma passing a ballot issue to purchase lands in the Swan Creek area for a park.

1965 – Pierce County Commissioners and Park Board agreed that the county and park district would jointly plan, acquire, develop and administer the proposed project with the assistance of the Swan Creek Committee and the Nature Conservancy.

February 16, 1965 – City of Tacoma and Park District are working together to seek state and federal aid to purchase Swan Creek property.

November 2, 1965 – Voters approved Metro Parks’ request for funds for purchase Swan Creek property, including the 53 acres in the proposed Swan Creek Recreation area.

In 1966, 152 acres were purchased with funds from an ICOR grant.

July 21, 1968 – “Swan Creek Canyon will be opened to the public probably within 10 years,” park planners said. The plan included natural woodland trails, picnic facilities, recreational area, interpretive center on the 40 acre area near the lower end of the canyon and the northern most entrances, and a large playground and recreation park constructed to serve the Salishan area. Joint city/county development was planned for the 30 acre park near the three mile long wooded canyon. A small dam would provide an ideal swimming facility near the interpretive center. Even an 18-hole golf course in the areas above the canyon with views of Mount Rainier and the Olympics was suggested.

1976 – Pierce County approved the Pierce County Comprehensive Park and Recreation System Plan which called for preservation of the canyon area.

October 4, 1976 – Citizens request varied recreational facilities at Swan Creek. The Board asked for an Advisory Council to present ideas as a detailed development plan has not been developed.

1977 – The pit water holding system failed during heavy rains which resulted in unclean water entering the creek and killing many fish that were part of the Puyallup Tribe’s fish habitat restoration efforts. (Swan Creek’s salmon run, once nearly non-existent had been reestablished through state and Puyallup Tribe enhancement programs.)

May 8, 1978 – Citizens protested use of Old Salishan by the police for driving exercises and discharging simulated firearms Police responded and said the contract only called for using the site eight weeks of the year for training. The Park Board agreed to allow the police to continue using the property for training.

1979 – The Swan Creek Park Action Committee urged Pierce County to close their gravel pit operation (31.9 acres) and transfer the property from the Pierce County Public Works Department to the Parks and Recreation Department. This property borders the MPT property.

January 11, 1982 – Park Board establishes the Swan Creek Advisory Committee made up of two representatives from the park board, the city, the county and two citizens. The Committee is given the task of preparing recommendations for the development of Swan Creek Park.

September 1985 –Trail Project at Swan Creek Park completed.

September 24, 1990 – Citizens ask about rumor of planned mountain bike trail in Swan Creek.

October 25, 1993 – Master Planning process begins for Swan Creek Park. Plan is funded with money from the 1986 Bond Issue. Recommendations include having zones for different activities, preserving natural areas and passive and active recreational opportunities.

May 13, 1996 – Americorp Swan Creek Program won the American Rivers 1996 Urban River Restoration award.

December 8, 1997 – Swan Creek Farm proposal: Steven Garrett of Tahoma Food System explained the projects intent is to work with families that are trained farmers and then provide them with training in organic farming and assist them in the development of consumer direct and niche marketing. Longer term goal is to provide the markets and experience to the farmers and then seek the means for some of them to begin small family farms in the Puyallup Valley.

- Metro Parks