Anchorage citizen activists preserve a park and make a point

It took a village and a very long time, but Waldron Lake -- a shimmering jewel bordering Campbell Creek in Midtown Anchorage -- will belong forever to the people of the city. The 17 acres surrounding Waldron Lake (named for original homesteaders Roger and Marci Waldron) is best known for kids' sporting events and practices hosted by The Boys and Girls Club of Anchorage, the former owners and stewards of the property, but its uses and its history are far more compelling.

The land had originally been a generous gift from the estate of Marci Waldron Trent to the Boys and Girls Club in the 1970s. They took what was then a gravel pit, brought it to life with landfill, and topsoil, and grass, and turned it into the green sanctuary in the heart of the city we know today. But tough economic times, and a steep decline in federal funding meant the Boys and Girls Club had to make a tough decision and put the land up for sale. Scores of Anchorage residents had come to use and cherish the land over the years -- for soccer and football games, for dog agility and hunting training, for picnics and family activities, practicing golf swings, cross-country skiing, running and photographing the abundant wildlife in and around the lake. The Anchorage Fire Department even uses the lake to train firefighters for ice and water rescues. The thought of this incredible community resource potentially being obliterated for commercial development left advocates for the park despondent.

Sen. Johnny Ellis (whose district at the time included Waldron Lake) took up the cause and spearheaded efforts to appropriate the necessary state funds to purchase the lake and surrounding property for use and enjoyment by the people. Local resident Cherie Northon started the "Save Waldron Lake" Facebook group, gathered a coalition of engaged citizens, drafted and circulated petitions asking the state to help the Municipality of Anchorage purchase the land, and submitted them to the state. A heartbreaking gubernatorial veto in 2011 seemed to stop the effort in its tracks.

The rejection only served to energize Northon and Ellis, and the community marched forward with more determination than before, and the next year the cost of the park survived the veto pen. Several legal hurdles still had to be overcome to ensure the land would remain designated for recreational use, as Marci Waldron Trent had wished. Waldron children rallied to their mother's cause, and a judicial ruling fell in their favor. Further negotiations headed up by Midtown Anchorage Assembly members Dick Traini and Elvi Gray-Jackson cemented an agreement for upkeep of the new park. Recently, the Boys and Girls Club generously agreed to continue maintaining the area at no cost to the municipality for the next 20 years, and a fund has been created to fully fund the park's care for all time.

Almost six years after this journey started, and thanks to the tireless efforts of Anchorage residents and the leadership and vision of Trent, of Alana Humphrey and the Boys and Girls Club, of Sen. Ellis and Northon, of Assembly members Traini and Gray-Jackson, our community will enjoy the year-round beauty and utility of Marci Waldron Trent Park. It took generosity of resources, time, and spirit by many Alaskans, but most of all it took patience and resolve. The park, just like so many in Anchorage, should stand as testimony to the ability of determined citizens and responsive local government to create a city with amenities of which we can be proud, and where we love to live and play. The next time you practice casting a line in Waldron Lake, admire the waterfowl in the fall, walk your dog, or take your kid to soccer practice, remember the power of citizen activism.

Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, has served in the Alaska Legislature since 2005.

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Sen. Gardner

Sen. Berta Gardner is a Democrat from Anchorage.