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Parks Department loses a 'wealth of knowledge'

Years ago, Salsbury Point County Park was a little-known plot of land with an inhospitable, eroding waterfront littered with boulders.

But when Larry Cote, Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Department planner, got through with the Hood Canal Bridge-area park redevelopment in 1996, the area was transformed. Gravel replaced boulders, and a wide, walkable beach is now framed with native vegetation and driftwood.

The change illustrates the Kitsap County Parks and Recreation Department’s new philosophy of park management, and highlights the role Cote played in county park development during his 29-year tenure.

“There is a real emphasis now on getting back to nature,” Cote said.

Cote retired from the county this month, and those who have worked with him on myriad county projects say he won’t be easy to replace.

“I’m not sure the county appreciates what a hole he will leave,” said Tex Lewis, a member of the Clear Creek Task Force who has worked with Cote on parks project for 10 years.

Anna Smith Park, Island Lake Park, the Silverdale Rotary Gateway skate park, Silverdale Waterfront Park, the Clear Creek Trail, the Old Mill site, Veteran’s Memorial Park in South Kitsap and Anderson Point in South Kitsap are among the projects he spearheaded over the years.

“It is the best job in the world,” Cote said.

He has found simple pleasure in seeing trees he planted two decades ago grow large enough to provide shade, he said, and over the years he accumulated a wealth of knowledge about area geography.

“Few people know the land in this county as well as Larry does. He has a passion for preserving the remaining beautiful areas before they are lost,” said Helen Daly, who has known Cote for 10 years through her work with the Open Space, Parks and Greenways Council.

There were times during his career when he was discouraged by a lack of resources allotted for park planning, Cote said. But co-worker Rick Fackler, also a park planner, said Cote’s ability to mobilize volunteers and his careful management of county money were among his greatest strengths.

Cote also brought in an estimated $1 million in grant money for projects during his career, he estimated.

“He was very stingy with public money. He was a real conscientious public servant, and he did things as well and as cost-effectively as possible,” Fackler said.

Anna Smith Park on Tracyton Boulevard was built almost exclusively with labor donated by volunteers, including the Kiwanas Club, Boy Scouts and the master gardeners.

“Volunteers are our greatest strength,” Cote said. “I have always been amazed by how many people want to volunteer. It is hard to keep up with them.”

Cote retired with some loose ends, he admitted.

He was shy of his 11-year goal to acquire 1,000 acres on Newberry Hill Road near Klahowya Secondary School. The county has obtained a 255 acres of the woods so far, Cote said.

“Perhaps my vision was too far in the future,” he said. “One hundred years in the future.”

Cote plans to spend his retirement working on household projects and pursuing his lifelong passion for fly fishing.

“I’d like to see the small streams protected as well as larger streams in the push to save salmon,” Cote said. “People don’t think about the trout in the small streams. That is the fly fisherman in me coming out.”

Lewis said he hopes to rope Cote into continuing to volunteer within the county, and Fackler said he hopes Cote will be available to answer questions which might arise regarding Kitsap’s history. No replacement has been hired.

“Replacing Larry is an impossible task. He had clear and strong opinions about how things should be done. He has a wealth of knowledge and he was one of our longest-lived employees,” Fackler said.

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