In recognizing the need for public park facilities and, in particular, a swimming pool, island voters approved the formation of the Bainbridge Island Park & Recreation District in a special election on May 25, 1965. This effort was spearheaded by members of the Rotary Club of Bainbridge Island with the active support of numerous other groups on the island. The first board meeting of the new Park District was held on June 4, 1965.
After it was formed, the Park District grew as park sites were acquired or donated to the new District. The island’s first park, Rotary Park, was presented to the Park District in 1966 by the Rotary Club. Strawberry Hill Park and Eagledale Park, surplus sites of the federal government, were acquired next with financial support from the Rotary Club. Island Center Hall was donated to the District in 1971 by the last living members of the Island Center Improvement Club, which received property for the hall in 1913 from W.L. Gazzam and his wife, Lulu. Battle Point Park, also surplus federal property, was acquired by the Park District in 1972.
In a continued spirit of collaboration, numerous partnerships were formed over the years to join efforts with the Park District in providing the island with parks, trails, and open space. These partnerships have included a variety of groups, including community groups, private non-profit organizations such as the Bainbridge Island Land Trust, and local, county, state, and federal public entities. Some of these partnerships have resulted in the island’s acquisition of Gazzam Lake & Nature Preserve, Blakely Harbor Park, Joel Pritchard Park, and the Hilltop properties.
As the first parks were acquired, volunteers actively worked with the Park District to develop them for recreation. Many groups, such as Little League and Pee Wee Football, set up work parties to help construct the first ballfields. A community venture resulted in the first playground at Strawberry Hill Park. These efforts have continued throughout the years as the Park District has joined with volunteers and community groups to enhance our parks. Many of the park amenities we enjoy today would not have been possible without these groups’ commitment and fundraising efforts. These park enhancements include the Kids Up playground, the Transmitter Building renovation, and the Camp Yeomalt cabin renovation.
While the first years of the Park District were devoted primarily to the acquisition and development of parks, the onset of recreation programs began with the opening of Ray Williamson Pool in 1971. At that time, the District hired its first employee. Shortly after the pool opened, the gymnastics program was born, and the recreation component of the Park District was up and running.
In 2001, island residents approved an $8 million open space bond authorizing the City of Bainbridge Island to collect tax funds to purchase open space, forested areas, wildlife habitat, and properties for trails and passive parks. The City worked in partnership with the Park District. The properties purchased with these funds are gradually being transferred into Park District ownership to operate as parkland for the island. Some properties acquired with the open space bond funds include Hidden Cove Park, Rockaway Beach, and the Forest to Sky Trail.
In 2011, WA State transferred the two State parks on the island to the Park District, and Fay Bainbridge Park and Fort Ward Park are now operated locally.
During its first forty years, the Park District operated under a tax structure that relied upon the passage of maintenance and operations excess levies every two years to obtain funding for basic operations. The uncertainty over whether the Park District would have funded every two years curtailed the District’s ability to look ahead and plan for the island’s future.
To stabilize funding for the Park District, island residents voted on September 14, 2004, to approve the formation of the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park & Recreation District. As a metropolitan park district, the Park District now operates under a tax structure that provides the community with ongoing funding for their local Park District, assuring island residents of continued park and recreation services from year to year.
Since its inception in 1965, the Park District has grown substantially and provides a wide array of recreational opportunities for the island. As of 2014, the Park District operates and maintains over 1500 acres of parks, trails, and open space available to the community for active and passive use. It offers countless programs for all ages, from sports to cultural arts, aquatics to boating, and outdoor programs. In addition, the Park District hosts numerous concerts and special events in island parks.
Consistent with its early years, the Park District today continues in its dedicated commitment to serve the island by providing parks and recreation that enhance lives and contribute to the enjoyment of life.