Matt Driscoll

Dune Peninsula and Frank Herbert Trail have an opening date. ‘This is a very special place’

Take a look at the nearly-ready Dune Peninsula Park

Metro Parks Tacoma announced an opening day for Dune Peninsula in Tacoma. The 40-acre park will be open to the public July 6.
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Metro Parks Tacoma announced an opening day for Dune Peninsula in Tacoma. The 40-acre park will be open to the public July 6.

Six years after an optimistic Metro Parks board commissioner first floated the idea, a park honoring Tacoma-born science-fiction writer Frank Herbert finally has a firm opening date.

Metro Parks Tacoma is expected to announce Monday that Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance and the Frank Herbert Trail will open July 6.

Both are part of a new park that, in total, is 40 acres. The project includes the Wilson Way Bridge, which will finally connect Point Defiance to the Ruston Way waterfront, as well as concert event space, a host of “sail mounds” promising astounding views and a series of six slides that will allow visitors to quickly get from the east end of the bridge to the marina below.

The culmination of the $74.8 million project comes more than a decade after preliminary sketches were first drawn up and three years after a construction and redevelopment project that Metro Parks Tacoma describes as the largest in the agency’s history began.

It also comes more than 30 years after the Asarco Smelter was shut down for good, ending its 100-year history of piling arsenic and other contaminants onto Tacoma’s soil — and specifically the waterfront “slag heap” that has now been cleaned up and transformed into the heart of the new park.

The opening marks the end of a story, and the beginning of a park, with plenty of extraordinary angles.

Visually, according to everyone who’s seen it, the site is jaw-dropping.

Technically, the work that went into transforming the Superfund site was monumental. It included moving 400,000 cubic yards of dirt and installing a woven geotextile cap, all overseen the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Ecology.

The long community-led effort to ensure part of the new park would honor Herbert was nothing short of inspiring. Perhaps the most famous sci-fi writer of a generation, Herbert’s pollution-tinged childhood in Tacoma in the 1950s helped inspire “Dune.”

“It definitely seemed like, at the beginning, that it wasn’t going to happen,” recalled Metro Parks board commissioner Erik Hanberg.

Along with former Tacoma Landmarks Commissioner Daniel Rahe, founder and co-managing editor Katy Evans and former News Tribune columnist Peter Callaghan, Hanberg first pushed for the park to be named in honor of Herbert back in 2013.

“There was just this long process of people getting used to the idea,” Hanberg said.

Having covered the process for the last four years, I can second that notion and add that it’s something of an understatement.

Getting to this point wasn’t easy.

While building a park on this prized-but-contaminated piece of land has been a goal for the city of Tacoma and Metro Parks for more than a decade, it wasn’t until voters approved a new parks and zoo bond in 2014 that funding materialized and the wheels really began to turn.

Metro Parks project manager Roger Stanton said this week that there’s a sketch on his desk that dates back to 2001, long predating his time working for the agency.

“When the bond passed … this became very real,” Stanton said. “That’s what really infused reality into our dream.”

Still, even as construction began in June of 2016, a name for the new site was being debated — sometimes fiercely, with valid questions equity raised about the process.

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In July 2017, Metro Parks launched a public outreach effort in hopes of identifying a name for the site. While more than 500 possible names were submitted via an online survey, the majority of responses referenced Herbert or “Dune.”

Finally, in early 2018, the Metro Parks Board officially voted to name 11 acres within the new park Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance, while also signing off on the creation of the Frank Herbert Trail, a paved pedestrian path that will connect many of the new park’s amenities.

“We’re proud of when we can turn these things around and acknowledge our past and also look forward to turning things into parks and public spaces,” said Hanberg.

He believes naming a portion of the “environmentally conscious restoration” project after Herbert and “Dune” galvanized Tacoma because it taps into the city’s “hometown pride” and “budding arts scene.”

“This is a perfect story of that,” Hanberg said, adding that the new park will create plenty of “Wow … I can’t believe this is in Tacoma” moments.

According to Metro Parks, the scheduled July 6 opening will come with a few caveats. Permanent signage and other artwork — like medallions along the Frank Herbert trail featuring quotes from the author and “Dune” — will still need to be installed. According to Metro Parks, an official community celebration is being planned for September.

“We will count on the community’s patience and gentle touch as our maintenance crews learn how to care for the nascent landscape in this incredible park,” said Metro Parks Executive Director Shon Sylvia in a press press release forwarded to The News Tribune and expected to be widely distributed later this week.

“This is a very special place,” Sylvia said.

Stanton, who acknowledged the project was “daunting” and “overwhelming” at times, agrees.

He now considers it to be a career highlight.

“It’s phenomenal. The sites are amazing,” Stanton said, noting the views of the Olympic and Cascade mountains, Mt. Baker and Mt. Rainier, as well as the Port of Tacoma, Point Ruston and Vashon Island, which he said “looks like you could touch it.”

“This feels like the Northwest,” Stanton said. “When you stand on this place, it feels like what we are all so proud of.”

A park Tacoma can be proud of, honoring an author we should be proud of.

A happy ending, in other words.

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Matt Driscoll is a reporter and The News Tribune’s metro news columnist. A McClatchy President’s Award winner, Driscoll lives in Central Tacoma with his wife and three children. He’s passionate about the City of Destiny and strives to tell stories that might otherwise go untold.