Community

‘Party in Park’ celebrates Bridle Trails legacy

Bridle Trails Park Foundation board members (from left): Alice Prince (secretary), Lothar Pinkers (treasurer), Jim Erckman (vice president), Kent Hite (president) and Don Prince (executive director). - Lindsay Larin / Bellevue Reporter
Bridle Trails Park Foundation board members (from left): Alice Prince (secretary), Lothar Pinkers (treasurer), Jim Erckman (vice president), Kent Hite (president) and Don Prince (executive director).
— image credit: Lindsay Larin / Bellevue Reporter

Whether riding on horseback or trekking the 28-miles of equestrian trails by foot, Bridle Trails State Park brings a serene rural atmosphere to a bustling urban area.

The wooded treasure, comprised of nearly 500 acres of natural land, came alive on Saturday as more than 2,000 people from surrounding neighborhoods joined together at the park for a day of celebration. The community came out in force to show support for the Bridle Trails Park Foundation’s 6th Annual “Party in the Park,” an event that raises funds to keep the park open and thriving.

The morning festivities began with more than 400 participants at the starting line for the 5K, 10K or 30K race events. As the morning rolled on, volunteers served the traditional hot pancake breakfast and children of all ages participated in a Donkey Dash foot race, a cake walk and face painting.

King County Councilmember Jane Hague showed her support for the foundation and community park as one of the many volunteers leading the pony rides for the children. Kirkland Mayor Jim Lauinger and State Rep. Ross Hunter also were on hand to celebrate the park, located just off I-405, boarding Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond.

The park’s historical presence dates back to the 1930s when local residents urged state parks officials to lease the land for a park to prevent the Department of Natural Resources from continuing to log and sell parts of the land. In 1945 local residents formed the Lake Washington Saddle Club, becoming stewards of the equestrian park.

The volunteer-based LWSC continues to play a vital role in the upkeep and care of the park by providing upgrades to the spectator stands at the horse show grounds, re-graveling weather-damaged trails and additional ongoing maintenance.

The park again was threatened eight years ago when the Washington State Parks Commission marked the park for closure due to budget cuts. The threat of losing Bridle Trails State Park prompted a small group of neighbors to form a non-profit organization to raise funds to keep the park open. Not wanting to close any of the state parks, but dealing with a severe shortage of funds, the commission agreed to work towards a resolution.

In 2002, founders of the Bridle Trails Park Foundation, Alice and Donald Prince appeared before the State Parks and Recreation Commission in Walla Walla to propose an agreement that would secure the park’s future. The original agreement requested a 20-year partnership between the Washington State Parks and the Bridle Trails Park Foundation, with the foundation agreeing to cover half the park’s operating costs. Following a brief deliberation, the agreement passed on an unanimous vote and was lengthened to a 40-year partnership.

“The community is the real reason why this park is still around today,” said foundation president Ken Hite, calling the park the core to the fabric of the neighborhood.

Hite emphasized that the park not only is a haven for horse riders, who have the right-of-way on the trails, but also is pedestrian friendly and ideal for hikers and joggers. The foundation also promotes environmental education to neighboring elementary schools and families.

As an ecologist and equestrian, foundation vice president Jim Erckman shares his appreciation for the park by coordinating guest speakers for classrooms, leading nature walks, hosting stewardship programs such as Earth Day, and bird watching.

The foundation continues to work closely with the state in funding the cost of operations for the park and maintaining the land. Rex Derr, director of the State Parks Department, attended the “Party in the Park” celebration to show support for the ongoing partnership. The foundation has raised $550,000 since 2003 and each year the “Party in the Park” fundraiser event continues to grow.

“At this point we are on pace with raising enough money to cover half of the net operating costs that range from $25,000 to $40,000 annually,” Prince explained, predicting that 30 years down the road the foundation will pay anywhere from $75,000 to $100,000 annually just to keep the park open. To help secure the park’s future, the foundation has begun to invest in future cost coverage.

“We want to continue to do fundraiser events to have fun - not to kill ourselves trying to raise money,” Prince explained.

The horse show grounds in Bridle Trails State Park is located at Northeast 53rd Street and 116th Avenue Northeast in Kirkland. To make a donation or for more information visit www.bridletrails.org.

Lindsay Larin can be reached at llarin@reporternewspapers.com or at 425-453-4602.

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