Metro Parks to demolish former clubhouse at Titlow, restore ‘natural beach’ for public

The fenced-off clubhouse at the northern point of Titlow Park is worn and weathered.

Weeds grow between pavement cracks in the parking lot.

A wooden whale sign on the front of the building greets passersby with a graffitied smile.

But not for long.

After three years of being barred to public access by a chain-link fence, part of Hidden Beach that’s only accessible by walking or biking will open anew to the public.

Metro Parks awarded a $500,000 contract to demolish the former Tacoma Outboard Association (TOA) clubhouse, which has sat vacant since 2016 and has become a nuisance.

What will be built in its place?

Likely nothing — and that’s what the people want, said Metro Parks planning and development deputy director Marty Stump.

“The public is really interested in seeing a natural restoration,” Stump told The News Tribune.

Metro Parks is still at least a year from the final design of the park, but ideas range from natural meadows and trails to an open pavilion available for rent. There’s also been discussion of making the site available for students learning about marine life.

“There’s a range of options,” Stump said.

Six structures are part of the demolition: the 4,000-square-foot clubhouse, caretaker’s building, a garage, a restroom and two covered picnic areas. Since vehicles can’t access the property, the debris will be removed by boat to a processing center.

Demolition is set to start in October and finish in two months, with plans to open to the public by the first of the year.

“There’s a lot of interest,” Stump said about the site. “People will rediscover this area of the beach again … It’s been sort of offline for general public use for many, many decades.”

A nuisance

Metro Parks leased the clubhouse to the Tacoma Outboard Association beginning in the 1950s. TOA members built the clubhouse, and it’s only been used by them.

While the public could access the beach on the TOA site, the clubhouse grounds were reserved for members only.

The site — about 4 acres of Titlow Park’s 75 acres — can be reached off 6th Avenue by a trail through thick forest and a pedestrian bridge over the BNSF railroad tracks.

TOA members drove and parked at the clubhouse, but that changed after an inspection of the bridge limited weight to 5 tons.

In 2016, TOA vacated the site, faced with accessibility problems, costs to repair the bridge and a failing septic system, according to The News Tribune archives. The club still operates in Tacoma.

The site has been surrounded by a fence ever since.

Now, the buildings are slowly deteriorating and causing problems for Metro Parks, almost on a weekly basis during the summer.

“They do sort of constitute an attractive nuisance right now. There are safety concerns of folks — (they) get in here and break in and cause a fire, that sort of thing,” Stump said.

At certain times of the year, Metro Parks sends staff to repair the fence every morning from damaged caused by vandals.

“The staff is really anxious for the buildings to go away,” Stump said.

The vision

Metro Parks is considering different variations of a naturalized restoration for the site as part of an update to its 2010 master plan for Titlow Park.

What amenities will be added — if any — depend on funding, Stump said.

Metro Parks is also considering whether to renovate the bridge for vehicle access.

“That’s about a $3 million price tag to replace,” Stump said.

Down the road, the goal is to remove the hardened shoreline — concrete blocks — along the property, including the boat ramp, to allow for erosion to a natural beach.

Metro Park is looking to use funding approved by voters as part of a grant match for shoreline restoration in the coming year.

“We’ll know within the next year to 18 months if we have sufficient funding to then move into a restoration phase,” Stump said.

As part of the demolition contract, a fence will be installed along the railroad for safety.

Stump says Titlow Park is unique in that it has a long stretch of beach. He sees the former TOA site becoming a natural beach for families to come for picnics or for those kayaking the Narrows to stop for a visit.

“Waterfront real estate is a limited commodity,” Stump said. “This is really a prime opportunity that comes along in a lifetime.”