MALAGA — Croquet baseball, disc golf, soccer and food led to conversations between neighbors and a newly solidified sense of community in Malaga Saturday afternoon.
More than 100 community residents gathered to celebrate the new park on the Malaga-Alcoa Highway, north of the Malaga store. The event was organized by the Malaga Colockum Community Council.
It was the first community picnic in a decade.
“This might become an annual thing,” said Herb Gardner of the Malaga Colockum Community Council. “We’ve talked that maybe it will be an annual affair. We’re waiting to see what kind of crowd we have to see how well it does.”
The council organized the picnic, in part, as a “thank you” to volunteers who spent hours clearing land, raking and pulling weeds to create the 2.5-acre grass-covered Malaga Community Park that’s now available for soccer games and get-togethers.
The picnic also provided an opportunity to show off the new field to community members, to encourage residents of all ages to come back and use it.
“The hope by getting people down here today is they will come back,” said Anne Gardner.
The third reason was a kick off for the next phase of park development that will turn the remaining 21.5 acres of property the community council purchased in 2004 into a full-on Boys and Girls Club.
In a lease agreement inked last fall, the Boys and Girls Club committed to developing the property, which includes the level area next to the road and goes up into the bench to the west.
Brian Paine, director of the Boys and Girls Club of Brewster, came armed Saturday with conceptual drawings of what the layout might look like. It includes a structure, with classrooms and two gyms on the hill, with a view of the river and mountains. Ballfields would then take up the rest of the property, plus upgrades to the 2.5-acre volunteer-built park.
The property also includes what was the old Colockum wagon trail.
Paine said he would like to include an interpretive trail that would lead from ballfields along the highway to the upper bench that has the view of the river and the surrounding mountains.
He said the ballpark figure for fundraising is between $5 million to $10 million. The campaign is expected to get started fullforce in the next few weeks, looking at community donations and a variety of grants. The plan calls for fundraising and construction to be complete by 2024.
Initially, the council intended to develop the property, but the volunteer councilmembers and volunteer labor could only do so much.
“There was sort of a big plan to do the whole area,” said Judy Terry, who served on the council for 10 years and was instrumental in securing the state grant to cover the construction costs for the park. “We realized we can’t do that, so we just concentrated on the this 2.5 acres, which was enough for the soccer field.”
The current park was getting rave reviews Saturday.
“It’s good,” said Giovanni Munoz, 14. He and his brother Roberto, 12, said they hope to play soccer in the park, as does their dad, Juan, who said it would be nice not to have to drive to Sunnyslope for soccer practice.
Ruby Tweedy, who has five children from age 2 to 9, said the picnic was the family’s first trip to the park, but said they likely would return.
Lee Ann Ulrich lives within walking distance of the park, along the Malaga Alcoa Highway.
“I think it’s great,” she said. She expects to be able to send the grandchildren down to play, but is making a push for sidewalks.
Becky and Greg McFann’s home sits next to the park property. They are park “supporters,” they said, and paid for the sign that now marks the entrance. They are more than pleased with the idea of a Boys and Girls Club being added to the property.
Herb Gardner estimates about $300,000 has been put into the park project so far, with support from Chelan County and a state grant for development. Alcoa provided funds for playground equipment. Farm Credit Services and a grant from the Community Foundation helped put up the fencing. Stemilt Growers helped with construction.
“People are curious about the Boys and Girls Club. That’s a good sign for the future. We’ll see how it goes,” Gardner said.
As for the community picnics, he’s thinking that might happen again as well.
“We used to have a potluck picnic, but the Chelan Douglas Health District frowns on those now. That kind of killed it,” he said. “In the 1980s, we had picnics in Washington Park in town because it had a shelter. In 1995/96, they built the fire station out here, so we had the potluck picnics there. Then, somewhere in there, we stopped. The potluck thing died and a lot of of the organizers died. It seems to happen. So, this is our 17th annual out of 30 years community picnic. This is the first time we’ve had it catered. It looks pretty good so far.”