On a spit of land in Tacoma’s Commencement Bay sits a brand new park with serene green space and spectacular marine and mountain vistas. Not that long ago, this was the site of a toxic wasteland. Now it’s Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance.
It’s hard to believe that this beautiful, 11-acre park with 180-degree Puget Sound views was, for much of the 20th century, a dumping ground for slag from the ASARCO copper smelter.
After a remarkable three-year, $75 million cleanup and redevelopment effort, the Superfund site has been rehabilitated into a safe, super-fun park.
Real-life chutes and ladders
“Bummer. I thought this was going to be one, giant slide. So you could really pick up speed!”
During the park’s opening celebration on Saturday, one teen boy expressed mild disappointment about the slide feature. It takes people down a 60-foot slope from the new Wilson Way Bridge to the marina complex below.
My preschool-aged kids disagreed. The series of six slides – some long, some short – were plenty fast. After my two-and-a-half-year-old witnessed another preschooler shoot down one of the longer slides, fly off the end and skid across the cushy landing pad, she opted to play on the shorter slides at the bottom of the hill.
The structure really is a fun experience for all ages. I saw a toddler, a teen, a dad and a grandma all line up together for a turn down the slides. Five-year-olds and 50-year-olds alike were screaming “Whee! Let’s do that again!”
The slides are fun. The stairs that parallel them are exhausting. My quads were burning after 15 minutes of following kids up and down, up and down. Most kids opted to skip the stairs and use the slope’s flagstone landscaping to rock climb their way back to the top.
Tips: Save your tired legs from a long walk back to the car by parking in the nearby marina parking lot. Bring water bottles, and test the metal slides’ temperature before sending down barelegged little ones on a sunny day.
Photo: Metro Parks Tacoma
Dune Peninsula is the park’s centerpiece, which is named for science fiction writer Frank Herbert’s famous novel. Herbert was born in Tacoma, and his experience living near the ASARCO plant influenced his bestselling story about humans’ destruction of the natural world.
Herbert’s tale and the peninsula’s polluted history stand in stark contrast to what you’ll see at Dune Peninsula today. Some 400,000 cubic yards of dirt have been replaced, and a geotextile cap makes the landscape safe.
Now there are grassy green hills for rolling, rocky outcroppings for climbing, lawns for kite flying and tables for picnicking. On clear days you can see the Olympic Mountains, Mount Baker, the Cascades and Mount Rainier. Plop down at one of the many viewpoints and watch the sailboats, container ships, Vashon Island ferry, and resident seals in Commencement Bay. You might even spy a blue heron, or if you’re really lucky, a whale.
There’s no playground at the park, but with all the natural features to climb and hop along, the kids won’t miss it.
Tip: Don’t miss the outdoor sculpture Alluvion, which harks back to the site’s origins through the use of smokestack pipe. You’ll see the sculptures near the parking lot.
Frank Herbert Trail
Frank Herbert Trail, the paved pathway that loops around the peninsula and connects to Ruston Way, draws all manner of wheeled fun. We saw families riding bikes, scooters and skateboards. With so many electric scooters zipping by, I appreciated that the path is wide enough to share with walkers, joggers, double strollers and meandering toddlers.
Wilson Way Bridge
The 605-foot-long bridge is the missing link between Point Defiance Park and Tacoma’s Ruston Way waterfront path. The bridge, which towers above a new parking lot for park users and boat trailers, includes a section in the middle to rest and take in the expansive views.
There’s a pavilion on Dune Peninsula with clean restrooms and water fountains. (You can also rent the pavilion for private events.) The pavilion is the only place in the park that provides a bit of shade, so bring your own sun protection. If you need food, follow the Frank Herbert Trail east toward Point Ruston where you’ll find plenty of kid-friendly restaurants.
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If you go: Dune Peninsula at Point Defiance
Dune Peninsula Park
5361 Yacht Club Rd, Tacoma, WA 98407
Take I-5 south to exit 133 for I-705 north, and follow the signs for Schuster Parkway. Stay to the left and follow Schuster Parkway toward Ruston Way. The parking lot for Dune Peninsula is at the west end of Ruston Way, just past Point Ruston.
The park and parking lots are free! But bring your wallet if you want to rent an electric scooter or one of the ride-on pedal toys at Point Ruston.
Just east of the slides near Wilson Way Bridge is a giant boulder and a small maze of thoughtfully placed logs. They’re fun for climbing and balancing.
More to explore nearby
Originally published in July 2019