NEARLY FORTY years ago, Nona Ganz and her husband, Ulrich, purchased a house near a golf course. Thanks in part to Nona, that golf course is now .
Nona’s passion for parks has taken her onto the Park Board, the city council and five park levy committees. The first four levies helped purchase and maintain numerous open spaces, including Juanita Bay Park.
If the city council approves it, Nona hopes that voters will, once again, put parks before pocketbooks.
Nona’s love for nature, and her pioneering spirit, go back many years.
In 1964, Nona was 19 and determined to see the world. She left her home in New York’s Hudson Valley headed for a job in the German Rhineland. A year later, she got a new job – at Radio Free Europe in Munich. She says the two and half years she spent working there were “fascinating.” On her time off, she kayaked whitewater rivers and skied down mountains.
At her parents’ urging, she returned to New York in 1968. Soon after that she packed up a VW bus and hit the road. After a year spent breaking horses in Oklahoma, she arrived in Seattle in 1969.
It wasn’t her first time in these parts. In 1962, she’d come to the World’s Fair with her family. Avid hikers, they’d gone to REI, bought some gear and headed for Mt. Olympus. “I’d never seen a glacier before,” Nona remembers.
That memory pulled her back to Seattle seven years later. “I was looking for a good place to live,” she recalls. Eager for a view of the city, she drove up the first rise she saw, and found an apartment on Queen Anne Hill. Later she lived on a houseboat on Lake Union.
It was in a University of Washington kayaking program that she met her Swiss husband. (The couple later competed on the U.S. Kayak team.)
In 1972, Redmond Elementary School teaching job in hand, Nona and Ulrich moved to a West of Market rental in Kirkland.
In 1975, they saw an enticing ad for a small house on two and half acres in Juanita. Nona laughs as she recalls the wording. “The property was advertised as an opportunity for ‘sod busters and pea pickers’.”
Over the next seven years they added on to the 1910-era house, doing most of the work themselves. For several years they lived in the garage with their infant son. Nona recalls that time fondly. “It was like living in a cabin in Alaska.”
When Nona learned that a piece of land on Juanita Bay was being rezoned, she felt called to action. “That’s when I really became involved,” she says. She and others fought unsuccessfully for smaller scale buildings and public waterfront access.
“Juanita could have had access and views like ,” she recalls sadly. “That rezone cut Juanita off.”
Meanwhile, a developer purchased the Juanita Golf Course property, planning to build 27 large houses. Nona joined “Friends of Juanita Bay” in a quest to create a park. Over the course of a decade, she helped get three bonds passed to purchase the land and build bathrooms, paths and boardwalks.
Along the way, Nona joined the Park Board to continue her advocacy for Kirkland’s parks.
IN 1990, she was asked to run for Kirkland City Council. On the heels of the new Growth Management Act, there was concern that Kirkland's small-town charm was in jeopardy. The neighborhoods felt their views were not represented on the council.
“I was sort of the neighborhood candidate,” Nona explained. “You don’t really hear about neighborhood and business candidates anymore, but back then you did.”
“Bellevue chose to become a big city,” she added. “People in Kirkland didn’t want that.”
Nona spent 11 years on the council, including a nine-month appointment to fill a vacancy in 2005.
About ten years ago, Nona heard about the Green Seattle Partnership, a mostly-volunteer effort to rescue parks threatened by ivy and other invasive plants.
“I thought, if they can do that, why can’t we?”
She brought the idea to Kirkland, and in 2005 the Green Kirkland Partnership was born. Nona became the steward for Juanita Bay Park. She and other volunteers have spent hundreds of hours removing invasive ivy and blackberry, and planting native trees and shrubs.
Now she’s concerned about the effects of party boat noise on the park’s wildlife.
“The partying is occurring next to one of the best wildlife refuges on Lake Washington,” she says. “We have so many nesting and migratory birds.”
She says the noise problem has recently gotten worse. “The last years have been much, much louder than earlier years, because boaters have been pushed out of other areas [due to noise restrictions]. There have been no restrictions here.”
She wants the city council to adopt .
“There is no speed limit in the center of the bay. Boats come in incredibly fast. Some don’t have mufflers. This mixing of noise and speed with wildlife is not compatible,” she says.
Amidst all of her park work, Nona tries to carve out time for her many hobbies. She and Ulrich spend weekends river and sea kayaking, backpacking and backcountry skiing.
Eleven months ago, Nona’s first grandchild was born. “She’s my priority now,” Nona says. “If they ask me to come down, I drop everything.”
Somehow, Nona is also finding time to organize an event on July 21 to celebrate the renaming of Houghton Beach Park to honor former mayor and visionary parks advocate Doris Cooper.
Nona’s property is now the only large piece of land left on the hill above Juanita Bay. As she stands on her deck gazing out over the meadow and trees, the only sounds are those of nature. She treasures the time she gets to spend here. “It’s my sanity,” she says.
Perhaps that’s why parks are so important to Nona. Parks, she agrees, are our collective sanity.