Photo by Ty Swenson
Hicklin Lake is part of Lakewood Park in White Center. Dick Thurnau (inset) is shown displaying a murky sample from the lake during a recent fundraiser.

Hello Hicklin Lake: Hicks Lake in White Center gets its old name back

One man's crusade to restore a small piece of history

Hicks Lake in Lakewood Park has been the butt of many jokes over the years and the subject of many motherly cautions (“Don’t you dare swim in that lake”). All in all, it’s the Rodney Dangerfield of lakes; the one that gets no respect.

Good news for the beleaguered body of water is far and inbetween. The new name may only add three letters to the root, but for Hicklin Lake crusader Dick Thurnau, it’s a victory several years in the making.

On Sept. 15 Thurnau, 86, received a letter from the United States Board on Geographic Names.

“Dear Mr. Thurnau,” it read, “We are pleased to inform you that the U.S. Board on Geographic Names … approved your proposal to change the name of Hicks Lake in King County to Hicklin Lake.”

The lake was originally named after Leonard Hicklin, an early settler who brought his family to the White Center area from Oregon in the 1880’s and bought the land including and surrounding Lakewood Park.

Over time the name started showing up as Hicks Lake on maps, and even had a period as Garrett Lake, named after L.B. Garrett who owned the land for a period of time in the 1930s after Hicklin died in 1931.

“I didn’t think this was ever going to go through,” Thurnau said with a smile as he held the letter in his well-worn hands.

While Thurnau has been battling to get Hicklin Lake cleaned up since the early 1980s, his plan to get the name changed started in 2009.

“Well first off, I don’t like the name Hicks Lake.” Thurnau said. The term “hick” doesn’t sit well with him since it has a negative connotation (think moonshine-swilling hillbillies).

“So I did some research and found out about Leonard Hicklin,” he said. “And when I found out about Leonard Hicklin I thought that would be an ideal honor for him even though he’s passed away.”

And so the saga began. The Washington State Board on Geographic Names, those with the power to make the change, met once every six months.

Thurnau proposed the name change to the board in 2009 and they told him they needed more historical proof of the original name.

He went back to the library, did more digging and came back six months later with proof. The board thanked Thurnau for his proposal and told him they would vote on the name change at their next meeting … six months later.

Five months and some change passed and Thurnau received word that Gov. Gregoire, due to budget woes, had disbanded the Washington Board on Geographic Names. Hicklin’s vote would never happen in Washington.

Thurnau was told to take his request higher up the ladder, to the United States version of the same board. He figured his request would get lost in the bureaucratic sea.

Then, to his surprise, he got his letter in the mail.

Thurnau lives just up the road from Lakewood Park and has been contacting King County since the 1980s to get the lake cleaned up. He remembers his children learning to swim in a clear Hicklin Lake in the early 1960s, with lifeguards on duty, and has always wanted to see it back in that state.

He said around 1965 King County diverted drainage from the Salmon Creek Basin into Hicklin and later put a parking lot in where the wetland used to be. Since the lake has no natural outlet, the wetland was the only source of filtration. Today, the lake looks more like a sediment pond and has tested for unsafe levels of contaminants including fecal chloroform, otherwise known as human feces.

As Kevin Brown, director of King County Parks and Recreation, put it in a letter to Thurnau addressing his concerns, “The lake has no natural drainage outlet and has been modified over the years to serve a variety of purposes such as recreation, irrigation and stormwater detention. The lake, unfortunately, receives all of the surface and storm water runoff flowing through a system complicated by tremendous upstream and downstream development.”

The county has installed new pumps to reduce flooding and does alum treatments every five years to kill off blue-green algae blooms, but for Thurnau its not nearly enough.

“It’s a dirty shame that in all these years King County hasn’t recognized the problem or done anything about it,” he said.

Six years ago, Thurnau started up Friends of Hicks Lake as a way for like-minded folks to lobby for cleanup with numbers. People have joined and tried to help Thurnau out over the years, but he said, “I think they just ran out of steam after a while.”

Today, Friends of Hicks (now Hicklin) Lake only has one member.

“It’s just me now basically,” Thurnau said.

Despite the numbers, Thurnau says he will continue to crusade for Hicklin Lake, driven by a 50-year-old memory of his children learning to swim there.

“Basically, I want to see the water cleaned up,” he said. “That’s my number one priority.”

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