Payoff finally comes after years of work

It was difficult to say what made Michele Cardinaux happier, the smiles on the faces of kids playing at the new Discovery Pond, or the dragonflies and water beetles who have already made a home there.

As program manager at the Tacoma Nature Center, Cardinaux is in charge of making sure the play area gets used.

“It is better than I envisioned. The elements are fun, look realistic and are engaging for families,” she said. “We want families to play together, have adventures together as a family.”

In late August, Cardinaux watched as students from the center’s nature preschool gave the play area a trial run. Their reactions offered some surprises to Cardinaux.

“I knew the water pump would be fun, but I didn’t know it would be one of the main attractions,” she said.

“Also, the log bridges. I knew it would fun to go over the pond, but it’s been fun to watch the simple pleasure they have running across the bridges.”

Having a few opportunities to let kids try the area gave Metro Parks Tacoma staff the chance to plan some minor changes.

She cited the telescopes in the tree house, which are “a little high for our target market.” So the staff is trying to figure out how to safely install some steps to make viewing easier. Staff also is thinking of adding a knotted rope so kids can climb into the tree house.

As for the pond, Cardinaux said some creatures have been added: rainbow trout, chorus frogs and tadpoles.

“We also noticed some invertebrates had moved in already, some water beetles and dragonflies. We don’t know how successful they will be,” she said.

With Saturday’s grand opening behind her, Cardinaux said it has been a detail-laden process to get to this point. It’s a project, she said, that began with the passage of the Metro Parks bond issue in 2005.

“It was funded by the 2005 bond project and by the (state Recreation and Conservation Office). We would not have been able to do that without the RCO money.”

The project funding was $520,000 from the park improvement bond and $350,000 from the state agency.

Now that all the planning and construction are done, it’s time to have fun, she said.

“I’m just excited to give all those people who have been looking forward to this a chance to get in there and enjoy it,” Cardinaux said. “I know it’s going to be a great enhancement to our park.”