How King County Parks Meets Local Trail Needs
WTA partners with King County Parks to make local trails more accessible. Check out their ongoing work to meet local residents at the parks they enjoy close to home.
As a part of WTA’s Trail Next Door campaign, we spoke with Steve Dubiel and Warren Jimenez of King County Parks to talk about the critical role urban trails play in healthy communities and how the agency integrates equity into its planning efforts, including a mobile van that travels between urban green spaces.
Parks close to our homes and in urban neighborhoods are there for us when we need them. Rain or shine, for a quick walk or a few hours, they fill a necessary niche of a healthy trail system–from green spaces near our homes all the way to backcountry hikes.
Warren Jimenez, director of King County Parks, recognizes the importance of these spaces in our daily lives. “I felt so lucky,” he said, “to step into an organization that had already done so much work to build a strong foundation around access and equity in parks.” Warren became director of King County Parks in 2019, and while a lot of good work has been done, Warren is the first to admit that there’s more to be accomplished. With more than 28,000 acres of land, including 200 parks in service to an estimated 2.3 million county residents, the county parks system oversees an area where many Washingtonians play outside.
King County Parks has a number of ambitious goals for improving and expanding their system of parks, trails and facilities, and that means thinking about the long-term impacts of their work. “I can’t help but think about our future generations and wanting them to feel connected to parks and trails and to feel welcome and safe in these spaces,” Warren said.
To do that, Warren emphasizes the importance of being responsive to community needs. In 2022, King County launched a mobile welcome van that travels between parks to welcome visitors and residents and to offer a way for those who use parks to offer feedback. “As our mobile engagement team deepens its understanding of each park and the surrounding community, that will help inform when and where we are present,” Steve Dubiel of the parks team said. That means that the team can go where they’re needed when they’re needed and get feedback from local residents on programs and projects that matter to them locally. It’s a great way to meet people where they are, both figuratively and literally.
It’s a big undertaking, but the work has already shown promise as it adapts to community needs. In 2022, King County Parks conducted a safety and belonging outreach event where community members shared that they felt safer in parks when there was somebody there to welcome and orient them. Since then, King County Parks has been experimenting and adapting their approach with their mobile van and listening to what residents and park visitors have to say.
“We prioritized locations in historically underserved communities including White Center, Skyway, and several locations in South King County. The mobile engagement team was in part a response to this community feedback as well as a desire to get input directly from park users as we develop projects,” Steve said.
As the King County team learns from their experiences they can continue to offer new ways to make urban parks safer, more accessible and inviting to all, which WTA’s Trail Next Door program also aims to provide. “It starts with community and authentic engagement where communities are getting to determine for themselves the needs they see for a space,” Warren said. “As a public agency then we need to be responsive to those needs and build partnerships with those that have the expertise we may not.”
We’re looking forward to seeing what King County’s Mobile Engagement Team finds in 2023 as well as working together to strengthen the relationship WTA has developed with King County Parks.