Sunnyside beach restored – Steilacoom, Washington

Nancy Covert

Various groups participated in the two-year restoration of this beach whose use dates back to the mid-1800s

For more than three quarters of a century the beach at Sunnyside has been a popular recreation area for residents of Steilacoom, Washington. Last year, the town undertook a major renovation of the waterfront park on Puget Sound that attracts users from around Pierce County. When Mayor Janda Volkmer snipped the ribbon to officially reopen the park, those who had taken part in various aspects of the restoration were on hand to celebrate the conclusion of two years of work.

The beach, once the site of Native American summer fishing camps, was first used by white settlers in the 1850s. Almost a century later, in the 1930s, local Yazuboru Higuchi began transforming the shoreline into a swimming beach. He constructed a dock and picnic shelters, planted poplar trees, and raised strawberries to supplement his family’s income. The beach fell into disrepair after WW II until the 1960s when then-councilmember Clyde Davidson took an interest in the beach. He persuaded the town to purchase the property, making it a community park.

By late 1994 when the beach began to show signs of erosion, the town established a 12-person Sunnyside Beach Task Force Committee. Comprised of representatives from different user groups, the Committee focused on a multi-phase restoration of the park and its environs.

“It’s where I learned to swim,” says Steilacoom Planning Commissioner Milt Davidson. He spent 28 years with the Seattle Parks Department before retiring to his home town a few years ago. His involvement with the project focused on the control of shoreline erosion.

Parks and Community Services Director Mary Dodsworth secured grants totaling over $330,000 from the Washington State Departments of Ecology and Natural Resources and the InterAgency Committee for Outdoor Recreation. With matching town funds in hand, the task force recommended a multi-phase restoration project, beginning with beach repair and stabilization, improvement and extension of footpaths, replacement of the restrooms, upgrading of the picnic shelter, installation of an outdoor shower, enhancement of the play area, installation of interpretive and entry signs and landscaping.

Patricia Sacco, homemaker and mother of two, was relatively new to the community when she became involved in the project. As a Park and Recreation Board member, she was concerned that the restored park serve the varied interests of a number of community groups. “We consulted representatives from all user groups: divers, walkers, families, and volleyball players,” she said.

By early 1995, a plan was in place and the restoration was under way. Approximately 7,000 cubic yards of material were excavated from the shoreline to reduce the risk of erosion and to balance inter-tidal cut and fill. Then 3,000 cubic yards of pebble-sized material was graded to break up wave energy. Another 1,000 cubic yards of rock, pebbles and sand were added to provide a base for beach grass. Finally, a layer of topsoil was added to support plant species on upland portions of the site.

That spring, under the direction of Steilacoom High School Biology Instructor Alonda Droege, another task force member, more than 80 biology students spent two days planting beach grass.

In a similar project, University of Washington Biologist Michael Williams and his students planted more than 4,000 square feet of beach with a variety of native dune grass. “Stewardship is key to this project’s success,” Williams reminded them.

In addition, volunteers from community service clubs were recruited to assist with the restoration. Task Force member Dave Welch represented the Madtono neighborhood–overlooking Sunnyside Beach–and the town’s Finance and Foresight Committee. While he was helping plan the park, Welch’s 18-year-old son, Adam, worked with the town’s parks and buildings crew throughout the summer. This family involvement, Welch says, “was one of the most gratifying aspects of the entire project.”

Overseeing the actual work was Lowell Bier, Buildings and Parks supervisor, who also left his mark on the project. Since the old swing set was rated as unsafe under recent state guidelines, Brier and his wife, Jean, purchased and donated a new swing set which was set up in the children’s play area.

The town’s crew received help from nearby McNeil Island Correctional Facility which operates a Work Ethic Camp program. The program is designed to rehabilitate inmates by instilling solid work values. It offers reduced sentences to young adult offenders, who have no convictions for sexual or violent crimes, and who face sentences of less than three years. “Their help in laying the sod was invaluable,” said Dodsworth, adding that without the additional manpower (10 crewmen), the reopening would probably have been delayed. “We have a high regard for the Work Ethic program, and are pleased to have been able to give the inmates an opportunity for some hands-on work experience,” continues Dodsworth.

McNeil Island’s other contribution was in the form of public art, purchased through the Washington State Arts Commission. Money from the Art in Public Places program was used to purchase a wind sculpture by California artist Anita Margill for the park.

Davidson made a point to visit the beach during each phase of the restoration. “It’s looking more like a natural beach since recent storms have deposited driftwood along the beach,” he notes. “And the shoreline is holding up pretty well.”

COPYRIGHT 1996 National Recreation and Park Association

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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