The Gig Harbor BoatShop is an inconspicuous, older building in the Eddon Boatyard.
But for the last 10 years it’s been the host to many events and education courses, signs of success for a small grass-roots group dedicated to preserving the boatyard and its historic buildings.
“I think we’d reached a tipping point in 2003, where those of us that had been in Gig Harbor awhile were well aware that historic properties, sites that truly defined place, were at risk of being completely removed from our waterfront,” said BoatShop founder Guy Hoppen.
“There just weren’t that many heritage properties remaining. It was either act now, or watch as the remaining historic properties disappear. Gig Harbor BoatShop, the organization, was the result and continuation of the grassroots work to save the boatyard.”
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On an average day at the BoatShop, Peninsula School District students are learning how to build a boat just from wood, or how to repair a motor on a vessel. Tours are given regularly to new visitors and families in the public park watch boats sail on the harbor.
“We offer opportunities to experience and learn about the ways of life of our working waterfront,” said BoatShop spokeswoman Allison Bujacich. “We teach skills like boat building and boat restoration. We provide public access to facets of commercial fishing through excursions and tours aboard the Gig Harbor-built purse seiner, Veteran.
“We believe it’s important to celebrate and honor our maritime roots. These waterfront traditions have defined Gig Harbor for 150 years. Offering activities like boat restoration, woodworking, boat launchings or just wandering around a boatyard, looking at boats — things that were once commonplace along Gig Harbor’s waterfront — all help secure a sense of place for Gig Harborites.”
The BoatShop, which was started in 2008, is hosting a 10-year anniversary celebration and fund raiser called Float the Boat(Shop) on Saturday (Oct. 13).
“It will be a casual and festive evening” that will be open to the public, Bujacich said.
The celebration will include a wild sockeye salmon buffet, a champagne toast and music by the band Big Hands Colvin. Visitors will share stories about how the BoatShop affected them and their community, Bujacich said. There will be images and information about what the nonprofit has accomplished in the last 10 years, plus a look to the future.
That includes the nonprofit’s biggest effort — installing a new marina railways leading from the back of the BoatShop’s workspace into the harbor. The railways will allow the BoatShop to restore and fix larger vessels and provide future education endeavors.
The project will break ground later this year, Bujacich said.
“We’ll have a piece of steel at the event that guests can sign, similar to a steel topping-out ceremony on a building construction project,” she said. “We’ll also have a canvas of the iconic ‘Save Eddon Boatyard’ image from the initial residents’ effort to save the boatyard in the early 2000s that we’re encouraging people to sign.”
The purpose of the event is to not only celebrate and commemorate the BoatShop’s work, but also to raise money to support its goals as it moves forward.
For Hoppen, the nonprofit started with an off-handed comment about a story in The Peninsula Gateway.
On Oct. 15, 2003, the newspaper ran a front page story about a proposal to build a gated, upscale housing development on the site of a demolished Eddon Boatyard.
“Lita Dawn Stanton and I were looking towards Eddon Boatyard from her family’s dock and discussing the Gateway article when she suggested that we try to save it,” Hoppen said. “What I thought of as an offhand comment by Lita resulted in a small group being formed that included John McMillan, Chuck Hunter, Lita Dawn and me that we named ‘Friends of Eddon Boat.’”
The group grew to dozens of supporters who met periodically to strategize about saving the historic property. Ultimately that effort galvanized the community, and in November 2004 Gig Harbor residents voted in a landslide to save Eddon Boatyard.
Gig Harbor BoatShop, the organization, was the result of that work.
“Perhaps a dozen proposals for use were presented to a city committee in early 2006,” Hoppen said. “The Gig Harbor BoatShop proposal, that I had written, was chosen and forwarded to council members. The BoatShop received non-profit status in 2008, moved into the Eddon Boatyard in 2010, and today continues the work that provides quality public programming.”
In its 10 years, the nonprofit has renovated the park and most of the historic buildings on the site. The city and the BoatShop are working to renovate one of the older houses next to the shop.
In addition, Bujacich said, “Completing the marine railways is a major focus.”
The nonprofit launched a capital campaign last year and has raised enough money to order the steel for the outside rails, the initial phase of the project. The steel is being fabricated and will be installed later this year.
“This is a huge milestone, but there is still a significant amount of money to be raised and work to be done to complete the project,” Bujacich said.
The railways and the boatyard house projects represent less than 10 percent of the total cost of the multimillion-dollar Eddon Boatyard purchase and restoration, but their impact is far greater, Bujacich said.
“When complete, the marine railways will allow Eddon Boatyard to truly function as a boatyard,” she said. “The house will provide a venue that dramatically increases public access to Eddon Boatyard and the waterfront.
“Each will bolster the community’s ability to experience and enjoy the historical and contemporary working waterfront. They will finish what began in 2003 as an improbable community vision to save an important and historic place.”
CELEBRATING THE GIG HARBOR BOATSHOP
What: The nonprofit is celebrating 10 years of education and restoration in Gig Harbor.
When: 5-9:30 p.m. Saturday (Oct. 13).
Where: The Club at Gig Harbor Marina, 3117 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor.