Seattle Sun Newspaper - Vol. 7, Issue 2, February 2003

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Group signs agreement to purchase historic Pilling's Pond


For most homeowners, the signing of a purchase and sale agreement represents the end of a long, draining process.

For the newly formed Pillings Pond Preservation Society, it signifies a task that is just beginning. "This is an exciting project and it's really going to be an uphill one too," says organizer Wanda Fullner.

The "exciting" part is that her group has reached agreement with the heirs of the late Chuck Pilling on terms for the sale of his property near Licton Springs. Pilling, an internationally recognized waterfowl breeder, operated the breeding pond adjacent to his North 90th Street home for more than seven decades until his death late last year.

The "uphill" factor is a recent change in regulations governing the city's Neighborhood Matching Fund (NMF). The City Council has mandated that NSF money no longer be used for property acquisitions.

This was not good news for pond supporters, who had hoped that the NMF would provide up to half of the property's $175,000 tentative purchase price (the final price will be set through a formal appraisal). "The city pulled the financial rug out from under us," says Fullner.

City Council President Peter Steinbrueck, a proponent of the new matching fund restrictions, says he's been concerned to see big-dollar projects including open space acquisitions getting the lion's share of the NMF money.

"I question the gradual drift away from smaller projects that involved a lot of community support," Steinbrueck says. "It seemed to be a fund that was being tapped too heavily by parks."

Steinbrueck says he would rather see the city fund property acquisitions through the opportunity fund established under the 2000 Pro-Parks Levy.

But, despite this new challenge, supporters are now working to gain nonprofit status for their newly formed group and solicit grants for the purchase of Pillings Pond.

The pond dates back to the mid-1920s, when 12-year-old Chuck Pilling dug a small pond to house three ducks given to him by a family friend. The site was part of his family's dairy farm; the water was provided by the small stream flowing south onto the property from Licton Springs.

By the time he was in high school, Chuck decided to get serious about waterfowl breeding and created the much larger pond that survives today. "I changed it a couple of times and finally got what I wanted," he told a Seattle Community Access Network documentary film crew a few years before his death.

As the neighborhood developed, the stream disappeared into culverts, more houses appeared, and faster and faster cars whizzed by on North 90th Street. But people always stopped to stare at the idyllic pond: surrounded by trees and inhabited by Pilling's ducks.

"Dad used to have all the tour groups come through, from Audubon, from the University of Washington," recalls son Jim Pilling.

The interest was more than local: Chuck was the first to breed three varieties of waterfowl in captivity: hooded merganser (1955), bufflehead (1964), and harlequin duck (1977). In 1990, he became the first American to earn entry to the International Wild Waterfowl Association's Wild Breeders Hall of Fame.

Jim Pilling says his father was a popular speaker at breeders' conventions because he never hesitated to share his methods. "He was always very generous he never kept any secrets from anybody."

Fullner says she had no idea of the pond's existence when she moved into the neighborhood. "I stumbled across it like everyone else," she says. "I just couldn't believe what I saw."

About five years ago, as president of the Licton Springs Community Council, Fullner hosted a meeting honoring Chuck Pilling. Afterward, she first broached the topic of what might be done to preserve the pond for future generations.

Both Chuck and his wife, June, told Fullner they had been concerned about that very question. Fullner convened a committee to study the issue.

With the help of grants from both Seattle and King County, the committee hired planner Carol Eychaner and began talks with the family. After considering other approaches, the Pilling family decided to sell the property outright.

But a sale presents many challenges. The Pillings Pond Preservation Society needs to find a larger organization which would be willing to hold title to the property, while leasing the pond itself back to Jim Pilling (a waterfowl breeder like his father) to maintain the collection. Not to mention raising the money.

The current plan is to pursue larger foundation grants while also soliciting small donations. Don't underestimate the North Seattle community's devotion to Pillings Pond. The Aurora PCC store saves its lettuce trimmings in a special can for Chuck's ducks. The Oroweat bakery supplies stale bread. Jim says so many mallard ducks from Green Lake visit the pond in search of a handout, that he has to chase them off before feeding his flock.

Licton Springs resident Mike Bonn is one of several neighbors who volunteers to care for the ducks on days when Jim is unable to. "I just really felt a need to pay the family back for the years that I've enjoyed that pond, and taken my family over there," Bonn says, adding:

"I really enjoy it too."


For more information on the Pillings Pond Preservation Society, call Wanda Fullner at 524-6669.