Blakely Harbor Park is rich in stories and lore.
Once the site of a traditional Suquamish winter village on its south shore, European settlement brought construction of Port Blakely town and its massive sawmill, when the bay was filled with tall ships and the roar of saws echoed across the water.
More recently slated for an intense development – in the early 1990s, the Port Blakely Mill Co. wanted to build 900 homes, a ferry terminal and a restaurant here – the historic log pond and surrounding land was saved through public purchase in 1999, and christened Blakely Harbor Park under the stewardship of the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District.
Frank Stowell, who lives up the road in one of the former mill houses, has enjoyed the harbor for years – since before it was a park – fishing the quiet waters alongside eagles and ospreys. He’s watched as the now 40-acre park has been transformed, reclaimed from its industrial past and feral years to become perhaps Bainbridge Island’s signature public waterfront.
“To me it’s kind of a miracle. It’s gone from being a ‘Pittsburgh,’ the world’s largest lumber mill, to being a place that people can come down and see it, finally, really taking off as a park. The environmental restoration is a big part of it, so people can feel comfortable coming down here.”
The park is the focus of ongoing ecological restoration by the Park District, work supported by nearly $90,000 in grants from the Bainbridge Island Parks Foundation since 2015.
Year by year, noxious weeds like ivy and holly are being rooted out and replaced with Northwest natives, with work by the Park District staff, the Student Conservation Corps, EarthCorps and volunteers – as Stowell has it, letting the park “breathe.” Trails have been improved, and amenities like a restroom and shoreside bird blinds added by the Park District.
Construction of the new footbridge across the historic log pond jetty – funded by a private donor through the Parks Foundation – is bringing even more visitors, by completing the loop trail and giving new access to the park’s south bank and connecting meadow trail.
“It’s more than just a bridge,” Stowell says. “It opens up everything.”
Restoration continues Monday with the annual MLK Day of Service at the park, adding to the latest chapter in Blakely Harbor’s long and colorful story.
“It’s awesome to think what’s happened here,” Stowell says. “Nature reclaimed the harbor, and people have helped reclaim it, and now look what it’s like. It makes you proud to be in a community where this can happen.”
The annual MLK Day of Service at Blakely Harbor Park is 10 a.m. to noon Monday, Jan. 20, hosted by the Bainbridge Island Metro Park & Recreation District. Bring gloves and your favorite tools, or use the tools provided. Information: [email protected].