John Laird: Another example of what makes Clark County great

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

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photoJohn Laird is The Columbian's editorial page editor. His column of personal opinion appears each Sunday. Reach him at john.laird@columbian.com.

Nine years ago this month, I barely knew Mill Plain from Fourth Plain. But I knew Clark County was where I wanted to live, work and play.

Leaving a city where I’d spent a quarter of a century became not so difficult as I was researching Columbian stories back in February 2003. Eight school districts in Clark County had just presented levy requests to voters, and despite the imposing requirement of supermajority approval (later reduced to a simple majority for school levies), all eight of those levies had passed, creating a combined $74.3 million for local schools.

Then I thought about what had just happened in my previous hometown. Voters had been asked for $398 million for schools, not for frills but for deferred maintenance, repairs and replacement of dilapidated classrooms. Almost 65 percent of voters said no.

The message to me in 2003 was clear: It’s time to move. Negative neighbors in the desert will never miss me. There’s a place in a faraway forest, next to snow-capped volcanoes, where positive people get things done without making excuses.

A few years after moving here, I helped coach a Hazel Dell Little League team, and we visited the Gaiser school park for a scrimmage against a Salmon Creek Little League team. I looked around the dumpy ball fields and thought about my old haunts in the desert. I also thought, we’re better than this. And I was right.

Today, the Salmon Creek Little League teams are among the many new tenants of the sparkling new $9.1 million Luke Jensen Sports Park on Northeast 78th Street just west of St. Johns. Formal dedication of the gorgeous facility will be June 16, but the first baseball games there were played last weekend.

Even if you think you’ll never use LJSP, you should visit and look around. It’s the gold standard for youth sports teams. You’ll find a large field for baseball and other sports, two other baseball fields, soccer fields and a concession stand. Two of the fields have artificial turf. There’s also a playground, picnic tables, and a walking trail. I wouldn’t be surprised if LJSP wins some kind of national award for parks design.

There could be no better tribute to Luke Jensen, the 9-year-old boy with leukemia who died in 2010. Next to the park is the Kings Way school he attended. The school worked with the county on a shared-used agreement for the fields and parking lots.

This can-do community spirit extends beyond the public sector and the private school. Salmon Creek Little League, which still uses the Gaiser school park, contributed $115,000 for the lights and scoreboard at LJSP. Also, parks volunteers helped clean out the eyesore thicket on the property, creating a more attractive see-through forest.

Naysayers? You betcha!

Yes, there have been a few critics of LJSP, some so vocal as to make me wonder if they followed me here from the desert. They complained about toxic contamination of the property despite the Environmental Protection Agency’s full blessing of the project. They also complained about losing a supposedly pristine forest, when the truth is, those woods were teeming with blackberries, ivy and other invasive species. Those parks volunteers dragged eight tires and a toilet out of the forest before turning it into something nice.

The critics filed predictable complaints about noise and lights even though county officials wrote a curfew policy prohibiting late-night use. They complained about congestion, cost of the project, smell, taste, feel … indeed, all of the hackneyed anti-progress complaints that have been lodged around here since Meriwether Lewis first plopped a paddle on the banks of the Columbia River.

Instead of listening to a few negative guardians of the status quo, listen to the kids (350 from Salmon Creek Little League) who use the new fields at LJSP. Listen to their parents in the bleachers. Then listen to that inner voice reminding you about a great place to live, work and play. My only regret is that I didn’t move here 50 years earlier.