[Sumach Park] came into being by people using it and not the other way around...it had no formal boundaries except the river and the patrons' imagination. (from A History of the Yakima Greenway by Frank Frederick)
In the early part of the 20th century, a large park stretched along the banks of the Yakima River east of downtown Yakima. Named for the sumac trees that grew along the river, Sumach (spelled with an 'h') Park was a popular spot. "It had everything, horseshoe pits, baseball diamonds, foot racing, swimming holes, bandstands, grandstands and even a ferris wheel, though it was north of the park and privately owned." (George Martin quoted in A History of the Yakima Greenway)
In 1933, the Yakima River flooded, and Sumach Park was devastated. In the years that followed,
the river was lined with slaughterhouses, gravel pits, and mills. Sumach Park became the city
dump, even sprouting a small peach orchard where the canneries had dumped peach pits. The
city's poor lived along the river, but most Yakima residents avoided the area.
The Yakima Metro District was formed in 1946-47 as an entity to acquire, own, operate, and
maintain parks, playgrounds, and other recreational facilities. A park board was elected which
functioned as Yakima's parks department until 1969. This board was in favor of cleaning up the
Yakima River within its jurisdiction, while other local citizens advocated a gap-to-gap approach to
solving the river's problems. However, lacking financial support, the board did not take any action
on improving the river area.
Throughout the 1960s and '70s, the citizens of Yakima continued to move toward the creation of
a park along the river. The Chamber of Commerce Beautification Committee proposed using
state funds to acquire the property bounded by Terrace Heights Drive, Moxee Road (now Nob Hill
Boulevard), the river, and the freeway. Local supporters met with the State Parks Commission,
and it appeared the commissioners would endorse the concept of the Greenway. State
legislators Ed Seeberger and Jim Whiteside co-sponsored a request in the state budget for a
study of the river area, which became the Yakima Greenway Master Plan. Unfortunately, once the
Master Plan was prepared and accepted, the state withdrew from planning, acquisition, and
operation of the Greenway project. The Yakima County Commissioners, instead, were given
responsibility for the project.
The County did not have room in their budget for development of the Greenway. The Yakima City Park Commission recommended a group be formed to implement the Master Plan. The Greenway Task Force came together in 1979. Committees were formed for planning, public relations, funding, boundary review, and operations and maintenance.
The Yakima Greenway Foundation was formed in 1980 as a private, nonprofit land trust. Its mission was and is to conserve, enhance and maintain the Yakima Greenway as a continuing living resource for future generations. With many years of hard work by Foundation directors, individual citizens, businesses, service clubs, and other philanthropic organizations, the Greenway dream of the 1940s has become a reality and continues to grow.
The Greenway now stretches from Selah Gap to Union Gap, and west along the Naches River. Over ten miles of paved pathway connect parks, river access landings, nature trails, fishing lakes, and protected natural areas. State and federal grants, along with local matching money, helped build many of the parks and pathways. The citizens of Yakima have generously given time, money, energy, and ideas to bring the vision of the Greenway to life.
Several lakes created by gravel mining exist within the river corridor and are, or will be, developed for recreation or reclaimed for natural habitat areas. The centerpiece of the Greenway, Sarg Hubbard Park, is built on the former city dump site. The Yakima River corridor, once the shame of Yakima, is now the pride of the community.
Information about the history of the Greenway is from Frank Frederick's A History of the Yakima Greenway. This narrative traces the Greenway's evolution from Yakima's early days through 1995 and is available for purchase in the Greenway Member and Visitor Center at Sarg Hubbard Park.
Bridge in Sumach Park
Lanterman Collection/Yakima Valley Museum