“EVERY FISHING WATER HAS ITS SECRETS. A RIVER OR LAKE IS NOT A DEAD THING. IT HAS BEAUTY, AND WISDOM AND CONTENT, AND TO YIELD UP THESE MYSTERIES IT MUST BE FISHED WITH MORE THAN HOOKS.” ZANE GREY
The story of the Maple Valley Rotary Park is preceded by the story of Fred Habenichts’ love of the Cedar River. He grew up camping, exploring and fishing this beautiful and mostly pristine stream, spending most of his time in the area between Landsburg and the upper reaches of the river near Dorre Don. Eventually, Fred would raise his family in a beautiful ‘A’ frame on the river near Arcadia where he again was able to be near the river that was so important to him, where he and his father and his two brothers probed the mysteries and the gifts of the river.
The Cedar River really hasn’t changed that much in the last 70 years, especially in the upper reaches between Landsburg and Maple Valley. The creation of the Cedar River Trail where the old Milwaukee Road Railroad used to run, has allowed access to the river from Renton to Landsburg thereby providing opportunities for biking, hiking, and horseback riding. This is what Fred had in mind as he worked to protect the river so that others could experience this treasure for years to come.
After raising his family, Fred and wife, Dorothy, moved to the Port Angeles area where they could indulge in their favorite hobby of fishing for steelhead on the numerous peninsula rivers. Fred passed away in June of 2006. He thought often about the future of Cedar River and trusted that the Rotary Club, in which he was so active, would continue to provide the energy and commitment needed to take care of the Cedar for future generations.
The Fred Habenicht Maple Valley Rotary Park
The Fred Habenicht Rotary Park was inspired by a project initiated by the Maple Valley Lions Club in 1972. Although the Lions Club no longer exists in Maple Valley, they were the genesis of a couple of Rotary projects that continue to flourish within the greater community of Maple Valley. One project is the Fisherman’s Breakfast held each spring in partnership with the Chamber of Commerce. The other project is centered around on-going clean-up work along the Cedar River, particularly the stretch running from Landsburg through historic Maple Valley. The Rotary Park is the focal point of efforts by the club to make the Cedar River a place for people to recreate and enjoy.
Lion’s Club Project
Fred Habenicht, a longtime member of the club, became aware of the Lions Club project and decided that it would be a good idea to replicate it. In 1993, Fred collaborated with King County Parks to organize Rotary Club members and other community volunteers to clean up the river from Landsburg to Cedar Grove. The river was divided into two mile sections with small groups responsible for each section. Places that were too difficult to get to were accessed by boat. At the end of the day, over four tons of garbage, ranging from car parts to washing machines and tires, were removed from the river and shorelines.
The following year the Club, under Fred’s guidance, initiated a litter barrel and signage program in cooperation with King County. This was another full day of a typical Rotary work party as the barrels were strategically placed along the Cedar River Trail. Unfortunately, some folks who didn’t understand the purpose began using the barrels for personal garbage. (It should be noted that currently users of the trail are doing an excellent job of keeping the trail and river clean.)
In 1996 the clean-up was staged at what is now the Rotary Park. At the time no one knew who owned the property. Fred thought that it was worth investigating with the idea that maybe Rotary could figure out a way to buy the property for a community park. After some poking around, he found out that the County owned it. He approached the County about the idea of a community park and they bought in and the Club became one of the first participants in King County’s ‘Adopt a Park’ program. Initially, the County had set aside quite a lot of money to develop the park, but under existing budget constraints, the money was used for other things, absorbed as it were for more pressing priorities.
However, Maple Valley Rotary knew how important the park was to the community and continued to have clean-up projects along the river; but it was now concentrating on the park. Through succeeding years, club members along with volunteers from the community, schools and other organizations began to cut away underbrush and unwanted brambles to create something that looked more like a park. At least twice a year, in the spring on “Service Above Self Day” and in the fall on national “Make A Difference Day,” Rotarians organized as much help as they could get to continue improving the park, building trails and making it more user friendly. As needed, Rotarians will show up for a work party. During the rest of the year, County personnel keep the park in shape by cutting grass and maintaining the parking area. This close working relationship has set the stage for many ongoing improvements to the park.
In January of 2007, the club president, Kathy Williams, contacted King County Councilman Reagan Dunn and recommended that the park be named after Fred Habenicht for his ongoing dedication and service to the community through his efforts to preserve the pristine character of the Cedar River. A resolution was presented to the King County Council and was unanimously passed in April of 2007.
The dedication of the park was attended by Councilman Reagan Dunn and Councilman Larry Phillips along with members of Fred’s family and as many fellow Rotarians. A large stone was unveiled and on the stone is Fred’s name along with the Rotary emblem and an inscription which says:
If this part of the history book seems more like a tribute to a member than a story of the park and the many hours of labor put in by so many people over all of these years, that should be ok, because that member had the vision and the leadership that so many other Rotarians have exhibited over the years. It has been the foundation of one of the most successful clubs in Rotary. Because of that kind of legacy the club continues to flourish and make an impact within our community and the greater world of which we are all a part.
As far as the park is concerned, when this 26 year history of the club is published, we should be well on our way to starting construction of three shelters at the park thanks to A Community Partnership Grant. (CPG). This $100,000 grant is the result of special taxing legislation approved by the voters for purposes of parks in King County. The vision lives on.
By Gary Habenicht