The transformation from a Superfund wasteland that influenced a seminal sci-fi novel into a world-class waterfront park is nearly complete.
After three years of construction, Metro Parks Tacoma will open the Wilson Way bridge and Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance Park on July 6.
The 40-acre project, which includes other amenities such as a series of slides down a 60-foot slope, is destined to become one of the most photographed places in the South Sound.
“Dune Peninsula is so serene, so beautiful, and so fun that being there feels like an escape from the hustle and bustle of city life,” said Aaron Pointer, president of the Board of Park Commissioners. “And the views from the Wilson Way bridge are spectacular. This park provides the full scope of the beauty of our environment – from Puget Sound and the Olympics to Mount Rainier and the Cascades.”
The park district is working on plans for a community celebration in September that will be connected to the annual Downtown to Defiance event.
“Depending on which direction you’re going, this site is an extraordinary gateway to Point Defiance Park and to the Ruston Way waterfront,” said Metro Parks Executive Director Shon Sylvia. “After the park opens in July, we will still have some work to do, such as installing permanent signage, and we will count on the community’s patience and gentle touch as our maintenance crews learn to care for the nascent landscape in this incredible park. This is a very special place.”
Metro Parks was the lead agency on the highly complex effort to build the pedestrian bridge and convert the peninsula created by toxic slag from the ASARCO copper smelter into a safe, welcoming park. The work involved moving 400,000 cubic yards of dirt – that’s 22,000 truck-and-trailer loads – and installing a woven geotextile cap. All of this work was managed by general contractor Atkinson Construction under the watchful eyes of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington State Department of Ecology.
It’s considered the largest project in Metro Parks history as the park district and the numerous partners guided a multi-faceted approach to enhance the park experience and honor its character. The new features include:
- Wilson Way bridge: The 605-foot-long bridge is the missing link between Point Defiance and Ruston Way. The bridge, which towers above a new parking lot for park users and boat trailers, includes a section in the middle that designers call “The Moment” because visitors can’t help but stop and take in the expansive views. The Park Board named the bridge after Jack C. Wilson, who retired in 2016 after 17 years as executive director of Metro Parks.
- Slides: Affectionately described by staff as a real-life “Chutes and Ladders” experience, this series of six slides next to the east end of the bridge is the fun way to quickly get down to the marina complex below. Each slide has a set of stairs next to it for those who prefer a slower route.
- Dune Peninsula: Eleven acres of the peninsula created by ASARCO slag were covered with tons of dirt and the artificial cap, and then beautifully sculpted and landscaped. The results speak for themselves: the Cambia Event Lawn for concerts and other events, as well as raised “sail mounds” for spectacular views, and lots of benches and tables to take in all of that nature. A small pavilion features restrooms and rentable space.
- Frank Herbert Trail: This paved pedestrian trail, named for the Tacoma native and famed author of the groundbreaking science fiction novel “Dune,” loops around the peninsula and connects to the Ruston Way Waterwalk as well as the trail that crosses Wilson Way and heads into Point Defiance Park. Medallions containing Herbert and “Dune”-based quotations will be embedded in the path later this year.
“The theme in ‘Dune’ of a world destroyed by environmental catastrophe drew in part from Frank Herbert’s life experiences in Tacoma, which in the 1950s was one of the nation’s most polluted cities,” said Park Board Commissioner Erik Hanberg, a sci-fi author himself who pushed for the park name to reflect Herbert’s legacy. “The characters in the novel have a goal to‘terraform’ their planet back to its inhabitable origins. That’s what we’ve done here. We have terraformed a polluted wasteland into a beautiful environment for all to enjoy.”
Construction began in June 2016. The $74.8 million cost was shared in the following ways: $36.6 million from Metro Parks’ voter-approved park bonds, $25.4 million from the EPA, $5 million from the state Department of Ecology, $4 million from the state Recreation and Conservation Office, and the remaining $3.8 million from the state Department of Transportation, the City of Tacoma, the Asarco settlement fund, and the Tacoma Yacht Club.
“People won’t just see this park,” said Metro Parks Project Manager Roger Stanton, “they will experience it. And they won’t forget what they’ve experienced.”