Friday, January 26, 2018

Redmond's First Parks Director to Talk About Early Years

John Couch, City Parks Director of 30 years with speak on Saturday, February 10th, 10:30 am at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center located on 16600 NE 80th Street.  

Redmond, WA January 5, 2018 - Ask locals what they treasure about Redmond, and you’re likely to hear parks and trails.

But those recreational spaces didn’t just happen. Fifty years of planning have gone into them -- starting on Jan. 1, 1968, when the city created a Parks and Recreation Department. Within a decade, 16 parks and more than 200 acres had been acquired for public benefit. By 2000, Redmond had 34 city parks and 25 miles of trail.

John Couch, Redmond’s first and longest-serving parks director (1968-2000), will look back on the department’s first decade at the upcoming Redmond Historical Society Speaker Series program on February 10.

The opening of the 520 bridge in 1963 meant a population boom would soon follow in Redmond. “People were antsy about losing their ‘vacant lot’ to developers, and there were few places for organized sports,” Couch recalls. “The vision was to ‘buy the land now’ before it was all gone. But there was a strong community push at the same time to ‘build us a park!’”

Couch will tackle questions like: Who were the leaders that made it happen? What were the challenges? Was there a park plan and funding in place? What was it like living and working in Redmond when the population was a fifth of what it is today?

Armed with photos from the era, Couch will take the audience back to 1968: Redmond has just one park, Anderson. There are no playgrounds. There’s a privately-owned golf links on Avondale, and an old beach resort down West Lake Sammamish. There’s not much traffic, and just one stop light. There are plenty of taverns, but only a handful of police. 

And, of course, Redmond’s Parks and Rec is just getting started. “Early on,” Couch says, “we had no copy machines, electric typewriters, or even weed eaters!”

Once the department got organized, new parks and programs soon followed. Farrel-McWhirter, Grass Lawn and Hartman were among the first new parks. Early rec programs included women’s softball, girl's tumbling, men's basketball, tennis, and summer playgrounds at the schools.

One thing Couch will not do is pick a favorite park. “Which one of your kids do you like the best?” he says. “I like each park for different reasons. Each one is unique and has its own story to tell. It could be a hike on a quiet nature trail, sitting by the edge of the lake watching the sunrise with a cup of coffee, visiting a show at the Old Firehouse, or seeing a sporting event -- all of these, and more, are the results of a lot of sweat equity by many people.”

A Q&A will follow the presentation, with attendees encouraged to ask or comment about those early years.

The Saturday Speaker Series is presented by the Redmond Historical Society on the second Saturday of the month with three programs each in the fall and spring.  It is held at 10:30am at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center, located at 16600 NE 80th Street.  Topics range from local, state and Pacific Northwest historical interest. There is a suggested $5 donation for non-members.

The Redmond Historical Society is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization that receives support from the City of Redmond, 4 Culture, Nintendo, the Bellevue Collection, Happy Valley Grange, Microsoft and 501 Commons as well as from other donors and members.

Tasia Williams
Redmond Historical Society

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