It isn’t often that a government agency urges lowered expectations for a construction project it’s extremely excited about.
But on Sept. 22, when Metro Parks Tacoma opens a new trail linking the Commencement Bay waterfront to the heart of Point Defiance Park, it wants visitors to know that, while it’s exciting, they ain’t seen nothing yet.
On the first day of fall, the park district and the city of Tacoma will host “Downtown to Defiance Sunday Parkway” to demonstrate how a new entrance to the region’s favorite park will someday work. Walkers, bicyclists and runners will be invited to travel from the city center to the park, aided by some road and lanes closures on Schuster Parkway and Ruston Way.
The final segment will run along a temporary 8-foot-wide asphalt trail reaching from Point Ruston’s Waterwalk to the parking area in front of the Science and Math Institute. The temporary path will follow a construction roadway that’s being used to move dirt from the bluff above the boat launch and boat basin. The bluff is being reconfigured to create a gentler slope.
Once at SAMI, trail users can get into the park by following a painted pathway and a crosswalk across the road leading down to the ferry dock. Users of the temporary trail can also walk down the hill to the shoreline. From there, they can easily reach the Boat House and then Owen Beach along the sea wall.
As excited as the park district is about the temporary trail and about finally closing what’s become known as “the missing link,” it wants trail users to know something much more grand is on the way.
“The interim trail will be in use for 18 to 24 months,” said park district spokeswoman Nancy Johnson. But it will not be the kind of trail experience residents have grown used to on other waterfront pathways. So as it celebrates the opening Sept. 22, the park district will tell visitors about the next phase.
Thanks to two grants contained in the state Capital Construction Budget approved last month, the district now has the money in hand — $11 million — to build a new pedestrian-only entrance to the park.
The new money totals $3 million. The rest of the project costs will be covered by $3 million from the park district’s 2005 bond measure and $5 million from the Department of Ecology that remains from the pollution settlement with Asarco.
By the end of 2015, that temporary asphalt trail will be replaced with a 20-foot wide esplanade that will climb at no more than a 5-percent grade, similar to the temporary trail. And rather than having to negotiate a rather inhospitable parking lot and compete with cars and boat trailers, trail users will take a new pedestrian-bike bridge into the heart of the park.
The bridge must be long enough not only to cross the roadway but also to rise over reconfigured car and trailer parking for the waterfront boat launch. The bridge will land not far from the Pagoda and the Lodge that recently was converted to a visitor center.
Curtis Hancock, project manager for Metro Parks, said the bridge design is just beginning. The district and its architect, Site Workshop of Seattle, are considering either an iconic bridge or something thin and less obvious “because the real view is the Point and the water.”
Two additional projects are being planned, but the park district has not yet secured enough money to complete them. One is to reclaim the shoreline between Point Ruston and the ferry terminal and transform it into a marine estuary and boardwalk. The other is to open the 12-acre area that the park district calls the Peninsula but that I and others insist on calling Frank Herbert Park. It will include restrooms, parking, irrigation and pathways.
The estuary project will include grading the very unstable bluff into a gentler slope. The over-water boardwalk, however, will not be the primary path for bikes and pedestrians to reach Point Defiance, said Steve Knauer, director of parks and natural resources. He’s also the park district’s lead executive for Destination Point Defiance, the ongoing master planning for the park.
“The boardwalk is a more intimate, environmental path,” Knauer said.
Both projects competed pretty well in state grant competition, but both finished below the level where money is expected this budget period. By contrast, the trail itself was the top-ranked project for state recreation grants.
“Pedestrian friendliness is central to Destination Point Defiance,” Johnson said. “That’s why this is a first win.”
Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657