Ballard excavator turns dust to gold at local parks

For years, long-time Ballard local, Frank Shields, has volunteered his construction expertise and his Saturdays to create public parks, expand P-Patches, and even build a skate park in his neighborhood.

During the week Shields owns and operates his company, Excavator’s Northwest, but he spends most of his weekends doing other work to better his community.

“He’s just an incredible treasure in the neighborhood,” said Laurie Ames, project manager of Neighborhood Matching Funds at the Seattle Department of Neighborhoods. “He has a can-do attitude. He makes his projects happen.”

Ames has helped Shields with many of his projects, finding the means for funding and volunteer groups necessary to get them started. Ames said one of the most memorable projects was the Ballard Bowl, Seattle’s first skate park.

Back in the early 2000s, Shields’ two sons loved to skateboard, but had no place to practice. Many other skaters were interested in a space, too, so Shields and his neighbor took it upon themselves to approach the Seattle City Council and ask for permission to build a skate park. After a lengthy process and much debate about the legitimacy of skateboarding as a recreation, they were allowed to build a temporary park behind the QFC.

“It helped create this bowl that skaters loved,” Ames said. “He’s passionate about building community, building better neighborhoods and bringing people together.”

While Shields’ old skate park has now been remodeled, Shields said it still reminds him of all the effort he and his family put in to make it happen, and he appreciates how the Ballard Bowl turned out.

“I like to set examples for my family and my children as how I give back to the community,” Shields said. “By actually doing something.”

Another one of Shields’ creations lies hidden within the trees at Carkeek Park. The concrete salmon sculpture swimming up a turf stream serves as a children’s jungle gym. Children can climb through the salmon’s mouth and slide down its hallowed out center. This was Shields’ first public park project.

The salmon slide is surrounded by tide pools and grottoes made of the same material and decorated with ceramic starfish, seashells and carved hieroglyphics.

“I like to tell everybody that I own that park,” Shields said.

Since its completion around 15 years ago, Shields said it’s been really popular and highly successful with children.

One of Shields’ recently finished projects was the restoration of the 112-year-old Kinnear Ambold Barn in Fall City, one of the oldest dairy farms in the Valley.

Tim Uhrich, the owner of the barn said he chose Shields for his experience in foundation work and after he saw Shields’ interest and passion in the project, he knew Shields was the right guy for the job.

“With the understanding that we’re restoring a building that’s 100 years old, he didn’t just want to slap something together and just patch it up,” Uhrich said. “He genuinely wanted to build this so it’s going to be around for another 100 years.”

Studying old pictures, researching other dairy farms, and exploring new materials, Shields dedicated months of his time to ensure the exact likeness of the old barn. He even recreated the windows as how cows would look through them, not just people.

“The building shows that someone took a lot of care and put a lot of attention into it,” Uhrich said. “It comes across in the building and that really is something because of his involvement.”

At the start of the project, the barn had a leaky roof, deteriorating walls and a weak foundation, but Shields was determined. He said the barn itself had its own beauty and just to be able to work on it has been a great opportunity for him.

“He wanted the building to actually be a better building,” Uhrich said. “We ended up with a better building and I think the community has a better asset now.”

“It turned out better and so much nicer than I had ever imagined,” added Shields.

These days, Shields has been working on opening up P-Patches around Ballard, digging up soil, creating planters and leveling the land to make gardening more accessible for those with mobility challenges. He said he hopes to continue with projects similar to he has done to continue bringing the community together.

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