Changes at Point Defiance

Five Mile Drive closure - it had to happen

By Morf Morford

Tacoma Daily Index

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You could file this under “Things we knew would happen”. If you know Five Mile Drive at Point Defiance, you know that it bears little resemblance to what it once was. Just a few years ago (it seems) The Gig Harbor viewpoint had an elevated look-out (you can still see remnants of the support posts and guide wires if you look closely).

Those of us who love (and watch closely) those cliffs of Point Defiance have seen them steadily – sometimes dramatically – wash away.

I had always pictured the view-point filled road being moved further inland. But I knew that would be prohibitively expensive and would cost the lives of far too many multi-century old trees.

Point Defiance is a park like no other

With over 750 acres of dense, never-logged forests, beaches, stunning views in several directions, a marina, a rose garden and, of course a great zoo and aquarium, Point Defiance has something for everyone – and every season.

You might even see an eagle soar overhead. There are even a few eagle’s nests tucked away in the park.

While it’s been reported that Point Defiance is the second-largest urban park in the continental United States, it actually does not make it into the top 150, according to this information from the Trust for Public Land. MetroParks also debunked this myth in a Facebook post/timeline photo back on March 14th, 2017.

In a typical year, about 3 million of us visit Point Defiance – that’s about the same number as go through Mt. Rainier National Park each year.

Most of us are responsible and leave little to no mark (or litter) of our time there.

But even the forces of nature don’t leave the park unscathed.

Besides storm ravaged trees, broken by centuries of untold furious winds, if you look closely on some of the older tree trunks, you can see scorch marks from major fires about a century ago.

Those trees might be four to five hundred years old, but even they will not live forever.

The Mountaineer tree, for example, at about 220 feet tall and about 7 1/2 feet in diameter, was a sapling when Shakespeare was born, but even it is not the largest, or oldest tree in the park.

Metro parks has tours of the park and a variety of classes on everything from mushroom foraging to plant identification for those who would like a closer look.

You can see more about Point Defiance (and other Tacoma parks) here.

Welcome back to Owen Beach

With the investment of over $6 million dollars and 18 months of work (and closure to the public) Owen Beach is finally fully accessible.

Perhaps to compensate for the closure to vehicles on the outer stretches of Five Mile Drive, the new Owen Beach (as of June 4th) will offer new facilities, road and trail entry/exit and climate-resilient design.

And improved parking.

You can rent a kayak, have a picnic, use the ADA-accessible children’s play area or get married, have a family reunion or, if you are a SAMI student, take classes at the new building.

The June 4th event also marks the kick-off of the Tacoma Trails Challenge, with on-site signups and swag bags. MetroParks is celebrating National Trails Day (June 4) with this fun two-week exploration of Tacoma’s parks and trails. Running from June 4-19, this is a great opportunity to connect, explore, and discover your local Tacoma parks and trails.

Owen Beach holds about 1,000 feet of Point Defiance Park’s three miles of shoreline.

Owen Beach holds a special place in the history of Tacoma – and of course among the people who called this area home long before Tacoma was established.

Tacoma is always changing, and as we can see at Point Defiance, our landscape is literally changing within our lifetimes.

Taking care of our parks – and ensuring their access for future generations is the greatest gift we could give them.