In honor of its 15th anniversary, Groundswell NW recognizes Webster Park as its June Park of the Month and thanks all who helped us celebrate on June 9 (see the Friends of Webster Park for photos and this Ballard News Tribune article about Lillian Riley, Webster and Groundswell). This is where it all started for Groundswell, and we also toasted our 20th year of incorporation and the restoration of Charlie Bigger's wonderful ceramic bas relief murals. The Ballard Sedentary Souza Band, who played at the June 1, 1997 grand opening, were back to perform. Also returning to make special presentations were King County Councilmember Larry Phillips and Groundswell founder Lillian Riley.
The idea for the park was hatched in 1989 when Lillian Riley, a former teacher at Webster and other Seattle schools, noticed neighborhood kids playing in the streets, since there were no parks accessible without crossing an arterial. Spurred by a Seattle School District proposal to sell the property for development, Lillian organized neighbors to block the plan and then carve out a neighborhood park from the corner of the old blacktop playground, then under-used as parking for the Nordic Heritage Museum.
Lillian and other neighbors soon saw a need for parks throughout the Ballard district and founded Groundswell NW to advocate for keeping public lands in public hands, creating parks and playgrounds and educating the community on the need for parks and habitat areas. In 1992, as Webster Park planning progressed, Groundswell was incorporated as a 501(c)3 non-profit to pursue these goals through the neighborhood.
Eight years after first launching the idea, raising thousands of hours of volunteer pledges, hundreds of thousands of dollars, and persevering through sometimes difficult negotiations with the City, school district and museum, Lillian saw Webster Park opened as Seattle's first pesticide free park, due to Groundswell's willingness help with ongoing maintenance. Since then it has been cited as Seattle's Best Neighborhood Park and Lillian was recognized with a Denny Award in 2009.
Lillian is no longer on the Groundswell board, but remains active and recently led the effort to restore the bas relief murals, with support from Larry Phillips, 4Culture and Seattle Parks. Others have stepped up to carry on community stewardship of the park, notably Amy Janas and the Friends of Webster Park, who organized the 15th Anniversary celebration with the support of a Department of Neighborhoods' Small Sparks grant.