Mason Gulch- Last call for comments

by Morf Morford, Tacoma Daily Index

Mason Gulch is located in North Tacoma near North Stevens, and covers 36 acres of open space. Steep, forested slopes surround the wetland/creek complex found at the bottom elevations. The area provides many environmental benefits including stormwater management, wildlife habitat, and water quality protection. Comments on the Mason Gulch Landscape Management Plan are due by Monday, February 13, 2017. The goals of the Plan include improving slope stability and forest health, public safety and public views within the limits of applicable regulations.
Who wouldn’t want a new, pristine park walking distance from their home?
Who wouldn’t want visibly obvious eroding slopes below a major arterial monitored and stabilized?
What neighbors wouldn’t want their local elementary school to have a wilderness park immediately accessible?

What neighbors, in a neighborhood known for its streets full of people out walking, would not want a quiet, year-round, lushly green, off-street new and beautiful area for walking?
These would be my neighbors: the neighbors who live around Mason Gulch.
There have been two public meetings on the future of Mason Gulch.

The City has two primary purposes for these meetings; to hear public input on preferences for the future of the gulch and to keep people informed on the progress stabilizing the slopes – especially near North Stevens Street, across from Sherman Elementary School.
But you wouldn’t know that by attending either of the two public meetings.
In fact you might have gotten the feeling that the City deliberately wanted to block views, charge property owners unfair taxes and even make neighbors pay for pruning trees on city property.

Yes, my neighbors said these things, and, yes, they are false, irrelevant or ridiculous.
But, while factually false, these fears and frustrations are reasonable give the recent assaults on the historic character and identity of the neighborhood, whether it was Blue Ribbon Catering, Proctor Station or the possibility of LNG facility at the Port of Tacoma, people in Tacoma’s North End are in no mood for big changes and grand schemes from outsiders.

But somehow this recent history has obscured a project that is, at least how I see it, advantageous to the community and certainly future generations.
Here are just a few of my observations:

Puget Park, formerly a neglected, dangerous, litter-filled gulch, is now hugely popular year-round. It is far cleaner, better maintained, far safer and far more welcoming than it had been in decades if not ever in the existence of the city of Tacoma.
Mason Gulch is far larger and has far more natural features and varied landscapes. It is primarily wetlands, and it is the home of a year-round stream, but it also holds higher ground and a vast variety of native fauna.

Imagine being a science teacher (or even better, a student) at nearby Sherman Elementary School. What could be better than walking, literally, across the street for a biology lesson or a wilderness experience?
What science teacher wouldn’t love immediate access to a year-round biodiversity lab with salmon spawning, all within walking distance from school?

Mason Gulch, besides being almost certainly the most primeval eco-system in Tacoma, holds some unique remnants of early Tacoma history – the stream was the original water source for the first local settlement – Old Town, Tacoma. If you look carefully, you can still see a few of the original wire-bound cedar staves used as water pipes.

Mason Gulch is that rarest of refuges – an overlooked wilderness in town. Some complain that it would be the wrong kind of refuge – a magnet for transients and vandals. It already is. And like Puget Park, the more public use it sees, the safer it will be.
As it is now, law enforcement and emergency personnel cannot get there – especially at night. Open access would make it far safer.
One neighbor complained, “Tacoma has enough parks!”

Wouldn’t you love to live in a community with too many parks? Every city has parks with playgrounds, benches and green open spaces. But Tacoma has parks like nowhere else; who else has a Blueberry Park, a food forest (at Swan Creek), and a destination-worthy bike trail (also at Swan Creek) and now, the possibility of an intact wilderness, all within our city limits.

Tacoma has many hidden treasures, and I am a bit reluctant to go public about what is probably the last haven in Town, but the time seems right. The slopes are in need of immediate intervention, and Tacoma is entering, finally, an empowered sense of identity.
I ask my friends and neighbors to think beyond the possible, but unlikely, annoyances, and consider the future of our neighborhood, our city and our children.
If you support (or oppose) opening access to this unique jewel of a place, be sure to get your comments in before Monday’s deadline.

Mason Gulch