Bainbridge Island Review

Jun 07 2006
Blakely Harbor Park may get out of doldrums

Julie Busch photo

Blakely Harbor Park's old generator building has long served as a canvas for artists.


Visitors could see improvements this summer, but some challenges remain.

Though no longer home to one of the world's largest sawmills, Blakely Harbor Park is still sawing logs.

In the 1890s, nearly 1,000 residents packed the shores there, producing 120 million board feet of lumber a year at the mill's peak before decline gave way to desertion and it closed in 1922. Save for the remnants of a few stubborn structures, the lesions of logging and development along the harbor are mostly healed.

Now, after years of planning, the Bainbridge Island Metropolitan Park and Recreation District hopes to finally carve a future from the quiet park's mill town past.

"We want to get things moving forward again," said park district director Terry Lande of an improvement effort that began with the purchase of former mill land in 1999. "This is a destination type of park where people like to spend a couple of hours. "We want to make sure we have adequate facilities."

Restrooms, a small boat storage facility and a footbridge that will connect two separated halves of the park are among the slated improvements.

The park district is seeking a combination of grants and donations to raise the $268,000 needed to build those projects. Lande hopes they'll be finished late this summer or early next spring.

Timetables for other plans at the park are less certain, but include new trails, a new parking lot and a solution to the dilapidated generator building, long a canvas for graffiti artists, that Lande fears is a liability.

The park district purchased the first 21-acres of the park from Port BlakelyTree Farms in 1999 with the help of private donors and the Bainbridge Island Land Trust. Today, with subsequent donations, the park is 39-acres and remains largely undeveloped. A conceptual plan was created in 2001 by the park district, the public and architectural firm the Portico Group.

In addition to providing basic facilities, the plan sought to incorporate the natural and cultural history of the site. Bainbridge architect Nate Thomas, who chaired the volunteer committee that helped craft the plan, said their vision remains relevant. "The concepts are still valid," said Thomas, who is still involved with the project and spoke at the last park board meeting. "And they can still be executed in one form or another, though some decisions need to be made with the help of the city and the community."

Park Roadwork
Part of the park's future lies with actions by the city on adjacent roads. The city must decide what to do with the troublesome intersection near the northeast corner of the park grounds. The park district wants the city to close 3T Road, which makes a lazy jog from Blakely Avenue toward the water before reuniting with the street at a five-way intersection several hundred yards later.

Though the road provides no access to any specific structures, it is used by trucks and buses as an alternative to a nearly 180-degree turn at the eastbound intersection of Blakely Avenue and Blakely Hill Road. The city is hesitant to remove the road until the intersection is reconfigured to allow large vehicles turning room. But the park district wants to tear up and re-vegetate the area where the road is now and incorporate it into their larger plans, including the new parking lot.

"We don't want to build a structure that the city will end up tearing out in a few years when they reconfigure the intersection," Lande said.

Public Works director Randy Witt said closing 3T Road is not a top priority, though the city will work with the park district to reach a solution. Until then, the restroom and boat storage facilities, which will be connected to one another, and the 80-feet long footbridge, are the park's most immediate needs. Because of the disconnect created by Mac's Dam Creek, which slices through the northwest portion of the property, hikers now must park on whichever side of the park they wish to use.

The bridge would reconcile that problem and better connect the park's trail network. Meanwhile, in the absence of restrooms, cross-kneed visitors seek relief in portable toilets. Lande said the restroom and boat storage facilities would be built somewhere near the site of the parking lot where they wouldn't be disturbed by future construction. The boats would be stored by the park district and used for classes and as rentals. Perhaps the most complicated quandary is the generator building near the center of the property, the last remaining structure from the old mill.

Because of it's historical significance, many would like to see the building stay. The 2001 plan suggested turning it into a visitor's center that showcases the site's history. Others think it's an eyesore and would prefer it torn down. Both options, Thomas said, would be expensive. In the meantime, the building is a rotating gallery for graffiti artists and, in Lande's view, a liability. A fence was put up around the structure a few years ago to keep people out, but was torn down by vandals shortly after.

In any event, Thomas is hopeful the community and the park district will come together to create a park that celebrates Blakely Harbor's past. "There's such a magnificent contrast between the way the harborlooked 100 years ago and the way it looks today," he said. "It's an interesting demonstration of the ability of nature to restore itself."

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