Ten years ago, a “sold” sign posted on a prominent piece of Gig Harbor shoreline brought the community together with a common cause: Save the historic downtown waterfront.
On Friday, that vision for Eddon Boat Park will be realized with a ceremony marking the completion of the project. It began as a grass-roots idea and slowly developed into much more after voters approved a $3.5 million bond to buy and start cleaning up the 1.3-acre site in 2004.
“Ten years is a long time to think that we’ve been pushing this ball forward,” said Lita Dawn Stanton, the city’s historic preservation and special projects manager. She was one of four people who approached the city with the idea to save the waterfront.
Seeing the park ready to open is “amazing” Stanton said, but also “a little scary” to think it’s been 10 years since they proposed its preservation.
The city planned to open the park in 2007, but decades of boat repair had left contamination at the site, landing the property on the state Department of Ecology’s hazardous sites list.
Former Gig Harbor Mayor Chuck Hunter, Guy Hoppen and John McMillan joined Stanton in the effort to save the land, including 300 feet of waterfront, from development. Stanton didn’t work for the city at the time, and Hunter became mayor shortly after the property was purchased.
“Thinking that we could actually do it, and that it would gather so many people and like-minded thinkers together, it’s really amazing,” Stanton said.
Nothing would have happened if the community hadn’t voted to tax itself at 28 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to buy the land.
“It was just a piece that people said ‘We don’t want to fill the waterfront up with buildings where we can’t see the water when we go by,’” Hunter said.
The city bought the land and three buildings, including an operational boatyard built in the 1940s. The boatyard was once owned by Hoppen’s father, Ed.
Guy Hoppen proposed operating a nonprofit boatyard from the site for the public to learn about boat building and the city’s maritime history. He is now president of the Gig Harbor BoatShop, which occupies the space once run by his father. McMillan is treasurer of the nonprofit board.
The BoatShop celebrated a milestone in 2012, when volunteers finished restoring the historic Thunderbird No. 2. The sailboat, built and launched from the same site in 1959, was a prototype for a line of sailboats that became well-known for affordability, speed and performance.
“(The city) really recognized the time is now if you’re going to secure the waterfront for various uses,” Guy Hoppen said. “Nationwide it’s pretty unusual to see the package of property saved and what the community decided to use it for.”
Today the city has several amenities that pay tribute to its sailing, fishing and general maritime heritage. The Harbor History Museum, for one, has a covered boatyard on the waterfront just north of Eddon Boat Park. But that wasn’t the case when the city was asked to save the land in 2004.
“Gig Harbor really didn’t look at itself as being special with its culture and history,” Stanton said of the mindset at the time.
Since then, the city has worked to take an inventory and preserve its historic netsheds, which held fishing gear as far back as 1910. Last year a group of residents fought to protect waterfront views from building height increases, though the City Council eventually passed an ordinance allowing taller buildings on a commercial stretch of Harborview Drive.
Preserving the boatyard and 300 feet of waterfront access was the first step of what became a “domino effect,” Stanton said. The community was motivated by the idea: “If we lose the last authentic boat building facility, what’s next?”
Before Eddon could take shape, however, the state required an environmental cleanup. It started in 2008 with the removal of a 12-foot creosote pile bulkhead and contaminated soils and sediments. A cap of sand and gravel was placed over less-contaminated areas, then monitored for five years to make sure it was effective.
The site is now slated to be removed from the state’s hazardous list.
The city received grants from Ecology, the state Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency totaling $848,900 to help with the cleanup. It also received a $1 million Washington State Heritage grant to help preserve and restore the historic boatyard building and another $230,000 to reconstruct a pier. Additional restoration work was done to the beach and shoreline.
The pier is open to the public and offers two-hour moorage to visiting boaters and a loaner life jacket station. A stairway next to the pier improves access to the water for kayakers. A deck tied to the brick Boatyard House is open to the public.
The park will officially open Friday, but the slope leading to the beach will remain off limits until this spring when the grass is more stable. Two publicly accessible platforms were added to the park, and three large granite “mussel” sculptures by artist Verena Schweppert are visible from Harborview Drive. An award from the state art commission’s Percent for the Arts paid for the sculptures.
Although this week’s opening of the park signifies the end of a decadelong project, there’s one phase left to complete. The marine railways — iron tracks used to move boats in and out of the water — need repairing so the Gig Harbor BoatShop can complete its vision of educating the public about traditional boat-building skills.
Work could begin in 2015, but funding is still needed.
Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467
IF YOU GO
What: Ribbon-cutting ceremony for Eddon Boat Park.
Where: Eddon Boat Park, 3805 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor.
When: Friday at 3 p.m.
Info: The public is invited to attend the short ceremony and a reception to follow at the nearby Gig Harbor BoatShop.