Point Defiance Park trails, viewpoints getting safety upgrades

The Gig Harbor viewpoint will gain a wider fence and more warning signs.
Credit: Harald Hohendorf

People love Point Defiance Park’s scenic bluffs. The bluffs offer sweeping views of Puget Sound and distant islands – and they have a long history of erosion.

The safety concerns that come with erosion have prompted Metro Parks to pull back an unofficial route that skirts the cliffs between the park’s Bridges and Narrows viewpoints on the outer loop of Five Mile Drive. Crews will do this by closing about 1,000 feet of the unofficial trail – and at the same time widening a parallel, secondary trail at a safer distance from the edge.

The first phase is scheduled to take place over the first two weeks in April. Visitors near the viewpoints during those weeks can expect to hear the unnatural sounds of construction equipment as a crew from Washington Conservation Corps clears away shrubs and dead trees to make the new primary route. The park district has contracted for years on similar projects with the corps, which is an AmeriCorps program that creates future leaders through community involvement and mentorship.

Metro Parks will seek volunteers to help with the next phase. The park has signs warning people away from the cliffs’ edge, but to help keep people out of these areas, Metro Parks will add native plantings and install split-rail fencing and signage along the unofficial trail to educate park users. Anyone interested can contact Community & Special Projects Coordinator Richard Madison at (253) 404-3959 or richardm@tacomaparks.comto learn more or volunteer.

People can still walk around the point thanks to the park’s numerous other trails. And when all is done, the newly restored trail promises improved sightlines and improved safety.

“Point Defiance Park offers amazing opportunities to view the beauty of the natural area around us. This project helps us encourage people to keep having great experiences by using designated trails and avoiding the eroding cliffs,” said Regional Parks Manager Phedra Redifer.


Taking a Long View

Point Defiance Park’s bluffs have been eroding for centuries longer than it was a park. The erosion is natural, and the park district’s long-term strategy is not to try to impede nature – for example, with expensive, unsightly attempts at cliff reinforcement – but to accept it and adapt.

Over the next five years, trail and other general safety improvements will extend beyond the outer edge:

  • The Gig Harbor viewpoint, an area that has seen recent erosion, will gain a wider fence in the coming weeks, along with more signs to warn people away from the cliffs’ edge.
  • A gate will be installed at the exit to Five Mile Drive’s outer loop to prevent people from driving in the wrong direction, as some have done on weekend mornings when the drive is closed to vehicles and is full of pedestrians and cyclists.
  • Metro Parks plans to install more speed limit signs along Five Mile Drive to remind drivers to take it slow.
  • The park’s Loop Trail Project will bring improved pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle circulation throughout the park. The project, which got underway with a series of public meetings in 2016 and 2017, moved into the permitting and bidding phase this year.


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