Army carves out new park - Beneath the majesty of Mount Rainier, members of the 864th Engineer Battalion from Fort Lewis carve the ground that is the site for Longmire Community Park in Yelm.


THE OLYMPIAN Longmire Park

YELM, WA -- A new park is starting to take shape through the hard work of the Army.

The wartime mission of Fort Lewis' 864th Combat Engineering Battalion is to build roads, improve airport runways and make other heavy construction improvements that would support troops in an area.

For almost three months, the unit has been practicing those skills while creating a new 14-acre park.

"Yelm is giving our equipment officers a chance to hone their skills," said Capt. Richard Capka, a construction officer.

Graders, scrapers, bulldozers, hydraulic excavators, vibratory rollers and water distributors have been shaping the site on Southeast Canal Road that will eventually become Longmire Park.

The Fort Lewis unit began work Sept. 9 and is expected to finish in mid-December. Then the city will begin landscaping and laying turf.

The park is expected to open in Spring 2004, after the turf has had a year to root and toughen.

While the community will see the benefits then, the Army is seeing them now.

"Anything we can simulate here at Fort Lewis or in the community greatly enhances our readiness to do our wartime mission," Capka said. "We brought it all down to Yelm so we can push some dirt around and give our guys some time on the equipment and give Yelm a quality project."

And what a mutually beneficial arrangement it is, said Jim Gibson, Yelm's development review engineer and project manager for Longmire Park.

"Without the 864th, we weren't really sure how we were going to get it accomplished," Gibson said. "They were the real key to it."

The project, through the Army's Innovative Readiness Training program, will save the city between $200,000 and $250,000, the city estimates. Yelm also is getting donations from area businesses, such as the 8,000 cubic yards of sand worth about $90,000 from Miles Sand & Gravel.

The city purchased the land a few years ago and for that and every dollar of donated labor and materials, the city is getting a 50 percent grant match from the state's Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation.

While the city isn't sure about the park's final cost, there should be enough funding to build a soccer field, three baseball fields, a basketball court, a tennis or sand volleyball court, and a parking lot with 120 spaces.

"These are the first athletic fields the city of Yelm will own," Gibson said. "We've had a lot of feedback from the community. They're very excited. We have lots of Little League groups and soccer groups, like most towns have, and this is the first public facilities where they can do those activities."

Army spokeswoman Brendalyn Carpenter said, "It's really a win-win situation. The community gets a park; the soldiers get the training.

"A lot of them live in the community, so they get the morale boost of being able to support the community in a long-term project."


- What: A nearly 14-acre community park with soccer and baseball fields. It is named for an early Yelm pioneer family.

- Where: 16820 S.E. Canal Road, Yelm.

- When: The park is expected to open in spring 2004.

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