Point Defiance Park will usher in the summer season this Memorial Day weekend with two new amenities intended to encourage visitor exploration of all the park has to offer.
A visitor center opens Friday in the historic lodge located near the park’s Pearl Street entrance. Then, on Saturday, the park debuts a new shuttle service that will ferry visitors from one end of the 702-acre park to the other.
Metro Parks Tacoma officials are hoping the seasonal services will help them deal with the summertime crush of visitors to the park, which attracts two million people a year.
Parks Superintendent Marina Becker said
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the services could extend into September if there’s enough demand.
“This is kind of our dip-our-toe-in-the-water year,” Becker said. “We hope it’s going to be very successful, and as we see how it goes this summer, we want to expand on it potentially in future years.”
The lodge, once the home of park superintendents and executive directors, was more recently a rental for special occasions, bringing in about $35,000 annually before expenses.
Metro Parks spent about $15,000 to outfit the 1898 building with exhibits that present a timeline of the park’s history, descriptions of the park’s different zones and activities, and interactive displays. Guests can test their ability to identify different scents from the park – or spin a “wheel of adventure” to randomly choose a park-based outing.
The center will also have some items for sale, such as trail guides and books about the park’s history. It will be open Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Park “ambassadors” or guides – mostly college and high school students – will staff the building, answering questions and pointing guests in the right direction. The park has hired weekend guides to greet guests the past two summers. It will add an ambassador this year, bringing the total to four.
Point Defiance has never had a centralized visitor center in its more than 100-year existence.
“I think the majority of the people that come through (Point Defiance Park) probably don’t understand all of the different opportunities,” Becker said. “We’ll be able to share all of that information with people. They can really plan their trip.”
Visitors also will have a new way to reach different parts of the park. A free shuttle will stop at eight locations such as Point Defiance Zoo and Owen Beach almost hourly – also from Memorial to Labor Day, though only on Saturdays, Sundays and some holidays.
Metro Parks has set aside about $10,000 for this summer’s shuttle, contracting with First Student for the service.
Unlike the visitor center, the shuttle is not a park first. In 1913, visitors could pay 10 cents to ride park vehicles around Point Defiance, said Metro Parks Tacoma historian Melissa McGinnis.
Parks officials hope the new shuttle helps cut down on traffic by encouraging visitors to take the bus to Point Defiance and use the shuttle to get around the park.
“It’s pretty awful in the summer on a sunny day,” Becker said about the traffic, adding that sometimes the line of cars backs up onto Pearl Street outside the park. “It’s crazy packed.”