Until now, when couples got married at Yelm’s Cochrane Memorial Park, the only option their guests had for restrooms was a port-a-potty. That will change in the next few months as Black Hills Excavating conducts a series of maintenance and construction upgrades to the park, including the installation of permanent restrooms.  Half of the park will be closed between April 26 and the end of July, with the other half still open for public use.

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Yelm’s Cochrane Park has become a popular destination for weddings and social gatherings throughout the spring and summer. Photo courtesy: City of Yelm

Because the site has become a popular destination, it can be easy to overlook its primary purpose: to serve as the centerpiece of the City of Yelm’s water reclamation infrastructure. The improvements, scheduled for the summers of 2021 and 2022, will increase the park’s capacity for water filtration while making it safer and more aesthetically appealing for visitors in the long term.

“The nice thing is that it doesn’t require the entire park to be shut down during construction,” says Department of Public Works Program and Project Manager Patrick Hughes. “We can work in a certain area, fence it off and leave the remainder of the park open for the summer.” Next year, the locations will be reversed.

The first order of business will be to install the new restrooms, a pre-painted, prefabricated building made of wood, steel and masonry, complete with fixtures, flooring and finishes. “Our contractor is going to be preparing the foundation and bringing the utilities up to that location,” Hughes explains. “They’ll bring the building in on a truck and then attach the utilities.”

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Upgrades will allow the city’s water reclamation facility to direct more outflow to Cochrane Park for filtration. Photo courtesy: City of Yelm

Another priority is clearing the filtration ponds of weeds and planting compatible vegetation around them. In the short term, the park will look bare compared to what visitors are used to, Hughes warns. “It’s going to look very much like it did when it first opened 23 years ago,” he says. “I think some people are going to be surprised, but the thing to remember about Cochrane Park is that it’s where the majority of our flow from our water reclamation facility goes. The original purpose of the park was to have that water pass through a series of ponds for additional polishing before we put it back into the groundwater.”

Having increased capacity means the city doesn’t have to utilize emergency outlets for their outflow as the region continues to grow, such as the Nisqually River or the Centralia Power Canal. “The main purpose of these upgrades is related to water rights,” says Public Works Department Director Cody Colt. “They allow us to validate replenishing the aquifer to grant Yelm expanded water rights.”

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Crews will be removing overgrown vegetation, adding a permanent restroom, and repairing aging structures like a wooden footbridge and railings. Photo courtesy: City of Yelm

At the same time, improved facilities will mean a better environment for events such as weddings, family reunions or simple gatherings with friends. Crews will be replacing a wooden footbridge, along with the handrails on a large wooden dock that reaches into one of the fishponds. An area around the park’s fountain will also be relandscaped. “The added benefit of these improvements is that we get a beautiful park for events,” says Colt.

For the project’s second phase, extensive approvals through the state Department of Ecology will be necessary. In that stage, crews will be modifying the remaining wetland cells and former fishpond, reconfiguring pipes and enlarging the rapid infiltration basins (RIBs).

Construction begins on April 26 and will continue until approximately the end of July. The contractor will be using the parking lot as a construction staging area, so visitors will need to park along Mill Rd, but the public shouldn’t be discouraged from visiting.

“There is plenty of room to park,” says Hughes. “There’s a wide paved shoulder on Mill Road that can fit between six to eight cars so there will be spaces available.”

To learn more, visit the City of Yelm’s website.

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