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Q & A with Metro Parks Commissioner Erik Hanberg

Mr. Parks discusses the future, sustainability and ruffians

Metro Parks Board Commissioner Erik Hanberg / courtesy Photo

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If you dropped in on Wright Park Friday afternoon, you would have seen swarms of teens battling in a high school regional cross-country meet, kids climbing on the new playground while grandmas chatted, gussied-up seniors having their portraits snapped under trees, middle-aged joggers circling, and two guys standing in the middle of all this, dressed for a business meeting.

I was a bit surprised. Running late, I didn't have time to change into outdoor attire. Certainly, that wasn't unusual. No, the surprise was Metro Parks Board Commissioner Erik Hanberg arriving in a sports jacket and carrying a briefcase. A briefcase. In a park.

He's Erik Hanberg. Mister Parks. I expected him dressed head to toe in REI. He grew up in the Tacoma parks system. He played his little league games in the parks. He had his high school homecoming dinner in a park.  As a New Year's resolution, he and his family visited every park in the system (more than 60) in 2005. And in 2010 he was appointed to the Metro Parks board.

Hanberg and his briefcase mean business when it comes to representing the public when forming the current and long-term direction of our local parks system. And if re-elected to Board Commissioner Position 5 this fall, Hanberg has his eye on creating more dog parks and community gardens, which create a greater civil society. He believes when citizens dig holes and walk their dogs next to each other, it promotes conversation and a tighter community.

While we stood in the middle of Wright Park, with runners and squirrels dashing by, I tossed a few questions at Hanberg.

WEEKLY VOLCANO: How does Metro Parks' "Stewardship and Sustainability Policy" fit in with the City of Tacoma's sustainability program? Does a partnership exist?

ERIK HANBERG: Metro Parks wants to be a leader in sustainability. As an agency, we are already 15 percent below our 1990 carbon emission levels, which is kind of amazing if you think about it. We manage a lot of the City's lands and are an active participant with them on making Tacoma more sustainable and green.

VOLCANO: Is Proposition 1 taking care of the basic needs of Metro Parks? How have economic woes impacted Metro Parks?

HANBERG: I am so grateful for the support of the voters who approved the levy lid lift in April 2010. It gave us a real opportunity to get past some very difficult times. The increase helped us maintain our levels of service throughout the park district. The downside is that dropping property values will decrease some of that funding next year and on into the future, but this is something we are carefully watching.

VOLCANO: Do you think Metro Parks strikes a good balance in terms of its partnerships with nonprofits, private entities and volunteers in the care and management of its parks?

HANBERG: I think Metro Parks does a great job working with all these groups. We work with non-profits to help provide services--like a partnership with the Children's Museum to help keep our kids active. We work with businesses to provide concessions--like food carts in parks. And we have a great relationship with our volunteers--last year volunteers spent more than 50,000 documented hours helping us in our parks. That's an incredible amount of time. And it speaks to how important parks are to people.

VOLCANO: What's the procedure if a bunch of ruffians caused a ruckus and damaged a park? Does Metro Parks have a plan in place for that kind of situation?

HANBERG: Ruffians are unfortunately a fact of life. Some of them spin donuts in their cars and tear up a field, some vandalize equipment, and some are more then just mere ruffians--like the arsonist who took out the historic Pagoda. On the board, we stress how important it is to get these things fixed quickly and get our facilities open to the public as fast as possible. Sometimes, like in the case of the Pagoda, insurance can help us make sure there's money for replacement.

VOLCANO: Of the six items you list that you're working for on your website, which one do you believe is most important?

HANBERG: The people I talk to are most interested in maintaining our current services. Keeping our parks open and safe, keeping them clean and maintained, keeping them lush and green. It's wonderful that we are able to improve our facilities, thanks to the 2005 capital bond, but in hard times like these, people want to make sure they still have a place to go to hang out on a beautiful day.

VOLCANO: Should dogs have their own sprayparks?

HANBERG: We do open Stewart Heights pool and sprayground to dogs once a year, but I don't know about their own sprayground. If a dog would like to come speak to the Board about this issue, I would certainly welcome them to come and testify during public comment at an upcoming meeting.

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As a side note, Hanberg will be the host emcee at Doyle's Public House's Knowledge Night Wednesday at 8 and 9 p.m. Expect environmental and park-related trivia questions with your Guinness.

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