Metro Parks Tacoma renames park to honor Valbert

The Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Park Commissioners voted this week to officially change the name of Blueberry Park to Charlotte’s Blueberry Park, in honor of Charlotte Valbert who served as the park’s advocate and volunteer organizer for more than a decade. Valbert died Aug. 16 at age 82 after suffering a stroke the week prior.

Valbert pioneered an effort to reclaim the once blighted property which had served as a blueberry farm until 1968. Through her work, the land has been converted into a public park with more than 4,000 blueberry bushes providing bountiful harvests enjoyed by the community each summer.

Metro Parks acquired 23-acres of the park property in 1994 in a land trade with Tacoma Public Schools, after it was determined that the land would not be a suitable site for future school development. In 1997, the property was formally named Blueberry Park and Valbert founded Friends of Blueberry Park, signing the first official CHIP In! (Citizens Helping Improve Parks) volunteer partner agreement established by Metro Parks. With her agreement in hand, Valbert set into action, organizing countless volunteer work groups and coordinating with the Greater Metro Parks Foundation to pursue grant funding to help restore the property.

Under Valbert’s leadership, more than 2,400 volunteers, including Boy and Girl Scouts, Department of Corrections Crews, United Way Day of Caring teams, university students, businesses, conservation corps and countless individuals have logged well in excess of 10,000 hours to transform the former eyesore into a community treasure, by removing blackberries, scotch broom and other invasive plants that had completely overtaken the property.

The park made headlines in 2005 when Valbert approached Metro Parks’ Executive Director Jack Wilson with a request to try an unconventional, yet environmentally-friendly idea she’d come across that would speed the process of removing the invasive plants: Goats. She went on to explain why goats would be a huge asset to the restoration process and provided the research she had done to back her request.

Then, with permission to give it a try, Valbert acquired a grant which brought the first herd of non-human volunteers to work their magic. The effort had such great success that other agencies responsible for public land management contacted her to learn about the use goats to help maintain their overgrown eyesores.

Charlotte’s Blueberry Park now is a destination for visitors from as far as Olympia and South King County who travel to Tacoma for a chance to harvest delicious antioxidant-rich berries from the rescued bushes.

Although she avoided the spotlight — unless the recognition came attached to a possibility of winning a grant that could benefit her park — Valbert earned a host of commendations for her success in transforming Blueberry Park. This spring she was greeted by a standing ovation as she accepted the Washington Parks and Recreation Association’s volunteer of the year award. Last year she was selected as one of five finalists for the Cox Conserves Heroes Award. In 2008 she won the Garden Crusaders Award from Gardner’s Supply; and the City of Tacoma presented Friends of Blueberry Park with a City of Destiny Award in 2005.

Accepting a proclamation from the Tacoma City Council this week which names August 29 as “Charlotte Valbert Day” in Tacoma, her son Ed Valbert humbly said, “While she was one woman making a difference, she was standing on the shoulders of thousands of people.”

As each Park Board Commissioner voiced support for renaming the park, they shared stories of Charlotte’s vast civic involvement, extending beyond her commitment to restore and maintain Blueberry Park. From active participation in the League of Women Voters and serving on the South End Neighborhood Council, to volunteering for non-profits like the Grand Cinema, “Charlotte was the consummate volunteer,” Park Board President Larry Dahl said. Then choking back emotions he said, “It wouldn’t really matter whether we made the decision to rename this park or not, it would always be Charlotte’s Blueberry Park.” And with that, the board voted unanimously for the name change.

Friends, volunteers and neighbors are invited to celebrate her life on Sun., Aug. 28 at Charlotte’s Blueberry Park, located at 7402 East D St., from 2-4 pm.