A Passion for Parks, On and Off the Clock

Dan Penrose makes a catch during an annual SCJ Lacey kickball game.

At SCJ we have our fair share of friendly fan feuds. Milk chocolate lovers vs. dark chocolate fanatics. Star Wars buffs vs. Star Trek devotees. Seahawks fans vs. everyone else.

But parks are one of those things we can all agree on: they rock! And for some of our people, their work designing and planning for parks means they get to have their cake and eat it, too. We caught up with a few of our folks to learn how enjoying parks in their free time informs their approach to working on them.

SCJ Planning Manager Dan Penrose presenting ideas for Chambers Creek Regional Park

Dan Penrose, Principal – Planning Group
Favorite Park: Millersylvania State Park in Olympia, WA (“It’s the closest to my house”)
Recent Park Project: Orangegate Park in Pierce County, WA

Dan’s approach to park planning boils down to two things: seasons and inclusivity. Not seasons as in spring and fall, but the seasons of people’s lives.

When we’re young, he points out, we love playing on the playground or just running around in the woods, exploring. Later in our youth and early adulthood, we play team sports on the fields or go for a run or walk on the trails.

As we get older, we end up watching others play more often than actually participating. Sometimes we go to parks for family picnics, church BBQs, or sports tournaments, and sometimes we go to escape all the noise and stresses of the built environment.

“All of this is important to keep in mind when designing parks – there are many different audiences and many different interests,” said Dan. “Setting aside something for everyone is what makes park planning so rewarding. Parks are the ultimate in design inclusivity.”

Sydney Dean (left) with SCJers Madison Herbst, Trent Grantham, and Dan Ireland at the East Wenatchee Gateway Park

Sydney Dean, Landscape Architect
Favorite Park: Bridgeland Treehouse Park in Cypress, TX
Recent Park Project: Cherryhill Park in East Wenatchee, WA

During a park visit for work, Sydney chatted with a woman and her husband, who was on a motorized wheelchair. “Even though the couple was out happily enjoying their day,” she said, “I couldn’t help but notice the lack of pathways and the unbroken pavement that made it difficult for him to get around.”

As ‘professional descendants’ of Frederick Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture and designer of more than 100 public parks throughout the US, landscape architects not only love parks, but believe nature and green spaces should be accessible to all. “We are great observers,” said Sydney. “We love people watching and need to do so to determine how successful a space, like a park amenity, is.”

East Wenatchee’s recently completed Cherryhill Park is one example of where Sydney has applied these values. A former cherry orchard, a lot of the soil at Cherryhill was contaminated by years of agricultural use. So environmental cleanup was the first step toward ensuring safe accessibility for the public.

And as the town’s second new park in 60 years, Cherryhill is also improving park equity by serving more than 3,100 community members within a 10-minute walk – including 750 children – who would otherwise have to trek across town to visit a park. Sydney is proud to say that wheelchair accessibility is integral to the design she and our team created.

Rick Hastings on the Clearwater River

Rick Hastings, Senior Planner
Favorite Parks: Huntington Park & The Gathering Place, Lower Spokane Falls in Spokane, WA
Recent Park Project: Waterfront Park & City Dock for the City of Bainbridge Island, WA

As both a park visitor and planner, Rick has seen firsthand how various features and designs fail or succeed depending on context. “For example, urban parks are often designed as if they’re in the countryside,” he said. “They may have ample ‘natural’ beauty, but don’t meet the needs and issues of densely populated areas.”

Rick has helped shape the development of large portions of Spokane’s waterfront, including updating a 1913 Olmsted brothers master plan for the Spokane River Gorge.

Parks and outdoor community spaces are sometimes treated as tack-on features or an obligatory element to projects. Our teams do their best to convey the importance of parks and open spaces to successful, functional architecture and built environments.

“Whether expressed on a single site or across an entire community, our approach treats built and natural environments as two parts of a balanced whole,” said Rick.

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