The irony is subtle, but it’s there.
Across the road from where walkers, runners and bike riders access the starting point of Pierce County’s wonderful Foothills Trail is the Van Lierop Bulb Farm store. A sign announces it is going out of business.
The trail is a triumph of preservation, of local citizens working for years to take back an abandoned railroad right of way and turn it into a recreational opportunity regularly used by thousands to get closer to nature.
The bulb farm is going in the other direction – from a 70-year history of growing acres of tulips and the Puyallup Valley’s signature bloom, the daffodil, to a future that will bring yet more development to an area once defined by its flower fields.
No one begrudges 75-year-old Neil Van Lierop and wife, Lore, their much-deserved retirement, one that will be eased by being able to sell acreage at higher prices made possible by recent annexation to the City of Puyallup. The couple had been scaling back in recent years anyway, from 100 acres of flowers to just 6. May 31 will be the official closing for the farm and gift shop.
Once the area produced a quarter of the nation’s daffodils. But flowers can be grown more cheaply in other countries and flown in overnight. Land in the valley is being sold off for development, which is considered a “higher use” – if not the best use – for the fertile, volcanic soil. And the hard, often unpredictable life on the land has little appeal for many farmers’ heirs.
Today, only one commercial daffodil farmer remains in the valley, Roger Knutson. He provides the daffodils for the grand floral parade of the Daffodil Festival, which this spring will mark its 80th anniversary.
As part of the annexation agreement between Puyallup and Pierce County, the Van Lierops have set aside 30 acres that can only be sold for agricultural, recreation or open space uses. It would be great if a public-private partnership could come together to keep at least some of that acreage in daffodils.