Port of Tacoma Commencement Bay habitat restoration, kayak launch open to public

People and wildlife now have a new place to explore nature near one of North America's largest container ports. The...

Kayak paddles and seal fins slice through the water side by side in Tacoma’s Commencement Bay, appearing to wave at the cargo ships, cranes and other industrial activity nearby. People and wildlife now have a new place to explore nature near one of North America’s largest container ports. The Port of Tacoma recently opened the $220,000 Richard C. “Dick” Gilmur Shoreline Restoration and Kayak Launch located at 5002 Marine View Drive on the east side of the bay. With parallel parking for four vehicles from dawn to dusk along Marine View Drive, the habitat and kayak launch offers another access point to appreciate the beauty of our region and the jobs that help sustain it.

The site’s restored shoreline provides habitat for the hundreds of birds and other wildlife that live along the storm-scoured shore. Native plants help anchor soil and provide shade, food and refuge. Other environmental features of the site include a “feeder” bluff that erodes like the natural shoreline and deposits sediments to beaches down current. Large woody material along the shoreline softens wave impacts to reduce erosion and provide hiding and resting places for young fish. The parking area features pervious pavement that allows stormwater to filter into the ground rather than carry pollutants into the bay. A wide ADA-accessible gravel path leads from the planted bluff to the rocky beach, allowing car-top boats to launch from the shore.

The site is named for the Port’s former environmental director, who worked for the Port from 1990 until his death from cancer at the age of 52 in 2006. Gilmur recognized and embraced a holistic approach, finding creative ways to enhance habitat beyond the obligations, to leverage partnerships, and create something better than what was being replaced. “This site perfectly reflects Dick’s vision to create a place where people and wildlife, jobs and recreation, neighborhoods and industry, history and innovation form the foundation for the Port’s business,” Commission President Connie Bacon said during last month’s dedication ceremony. “This site reaffirms that a working waterfront can coexist with sustainable habitat and public access spaces.”

According to the Spring 2006 issue of the Port of Tacoma’s “Pacific Gateway” magazine ( http://www.portoftacoma.com/File.ashx?cid=395 ), Gilmur managed the environmental aspects of the Tacoma Tideflats’ evolution from traditional industries to today’s modern container terminals, leading the Port through environmental permitting, habitat construction and oversight of several historic cleanup projects. Gilmur’s work on the Clear Creek and Gog-Le-Hi-Te Wetland mitigation projects resulted in national and international recognition for the Port. In addition to his work at the Port, Gilmur was active in the revival of Tacoma’s Thea Foss Waterway and the cleanup of the Ruston Way waterfront. “Dick worked diligently with Port customers, our business partners, regulatory agencies and the community to ensure that the needs of all were represented in Port projects,” said then Port of Tacoma Executive Director Timothy J. Farrell in the magazine. “I think it’s safe to say that without Dick’s leadership and passion for environmental stewardship, the face of the Port would be much different today.”

Neighbors, some of whom rent the property beneath their homes from the Port, are working to form a stewardship group to help care for the site.

The Port of Tacoma bought 17 acres of shoreline along Marine View Drive in 2005 for $2.85 million to use for future habitat mitigation and restoration. With 9 acres of submerged tidelands and 8 acres of uplands, this property provides areas for the Port to conserve and protect intertidal and shallow sub-tidal habitat near port operations. The Dick Gilmur Shoreline Restoration and Kayak Launch is among the first pieces of the property to be enhanced. As future Port development in the industrial areas of the Tideflats calls for mitigation elsewhere in Commencement Bay, the Port plans to restore the valuable intertidal habitat once prevalent in the bay. The property’s restored shoreline would provide a suitable home for eel grass, a resting and feeding area for juvenile salmon before they head out to Puget Sound, and home for the hundreds of birds and other wildlife that already carve out an existence along the shore.

Photos of the Richard C. “Dick” Gilmur Shoreline Restoration and Kayak Launch are online  here.

Dick Gilmur Memorial Shoreline Public Access. (PHOTOS COURTESY PORT OF TACOMA)
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