Olympia resident Dixie Havlak has blended her boundless energy, intellectual curiosity and love of the city she adopted as her own in the 1980s into a new business.
It’s called OlyWalks and, as the name implies, features walking tours of the Olympia waterfront, the downtown historic district, the state Capitol Campus or some combination of the three.
If you go on a tour, be prepared to have your head filled with historic facts about downtown buildings, the Port of Olympia, the Capitol and some of the interesting characters who shaped one of the oldest settlements in Western Washington.
Working without a script and tailoring her message to her clientele, Havlak will share her take on local dining, downtown shops, public art, urban wildlife and whatever else pops into her head.
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The tours range from 90 minutes to more than three hours, with Friday the day she typically sets aside to walk and talk about her community.
I joined her and some of her pals from the Olympia Mountaineers Club recently for a waterfront-downtown Olympia tour that costs $8 for a child under 16 and $15 for an adult. We met at the kiosk next to the Olympia Farmers Market, an apt starting point given the fact Havlak, 55, is a self-employed dietician.
She didn’t hesitate to put in a plug for one of Olympia’s magnetic, summer draws midday Thursday through Sunday.
“This is a great place to buy locally grown, healthy food,” she said. “I try to send my clients here.”
She supplied us with name tags out of a backpack crammed with everything from maps and brochures to a bottle of water from one of Olympia’s remaining artesian wells to bits of cedar bark used by Native Americans to weave baskets. Then she explained that the talking part of the tour would occur at various stops along the route.
“It’s hard to walk and talk at the same time,” she explained.
Off we strode to the Port of Olympia’s Port Plaza, trying to keep up with the athletic, long-legged tour guide who also is a fixture in Samba Olywa, the amateur percussion and dance group that performs in the Procession of the Species and other community events.
We were reminded that the concrete work in the plaza emulates wave action, then jumped back in time to 1792 when Peter Puget explored the waters of Puget Sound.
Many of the names of South Sound inlets, bays and peninsulas were named after officers of the early exploring expeditions, i.e., Budd’s Inlet and Cooper’s Point, she said.
“Over time, the cartographers dropped the possessive ‘S,’ ” she explained.
We climbed the port viewing tower and peered north through binoculars at a pair of peregrine falcons, perched like regal guards over a nest in a port crane where their baby chicks awaited their next meal.
Gazing over an incongruous cargo yard display of windmill turbines bound for an Eastern Washington wind farm and raw logs destined for Japan, Havlak pointed out that more than 200 ships called on the Port of Olympia in 1929, compared with three cargo ships last year.
Soon we were headed south to downtown Olympia, but not before stopping at “Motherhood,” a 1999 bronze monument of a woman immigrant holding a child and looking inland at a new life. It was sculpted for the city by Simon Kogan, a Russian immigrant who moved to Olympia in 1992. It was just one of several pieces of art Havlak drew attention to during the tour.
The downtown walk gained momentum during a stop in front of Olympia Federal Savings. Havlak took us back in time to the days when Capitol Way was called Main Street and northern travelers from Portland and parts south reached the intersection with Fourth Avenue. Turn east and the road led to Tacoma and Seattle. Turn west and it was off to the ocean.
Much of the downtown tour focused on the history of the eclectic mix of buildings in the downtown historic district, a zany hodge-podge of architectural design that grew out of the occasional fire or earthquake (1949, 1965, 2001), calamities that forced building owners to build anew.
One 100-year-old relic downtown is the brick-paved alley running east-west between Capitol Way and Columbia Street near Fourth Avenue.
Tired of sidewalks catching on fire, the city paved them with bricks, beginning in 1909, Havlak said. The brick alley is the only remnant left from that early public works project.
We saw examples of a present day alley project on the tour. The city has encouraged pedestrian use at the expense of drug use and other illegal behavior in a few east-west running alleys by installing lights, adding murals and eliminating garbage collection.
After the tour, which lasted more than three hours, we hoofed it back to the farmers market for lunch.
Havlak said she was drawn to the new enterprise by her love of a city, which happens to be rich in history.
“I’m still trying to figure out what my market niche is,” she said, between bites of chicken, cabbage and peanut salad.
Tourists and out-of-town guests of Olympia area residents are likely targets, Connie Lorenz, executive director of the Olympia Downtown Association, suggested later.
Even a South Sound old-timer like me found much to learn on this enjoyable walk about town.
For more information on OlyWalks, go to www.olywalks.com or call 360-943-0956.
John Dodge is a senior reporter and Sunday columnist for The Olympian. He can be reached at 360-754-5444 or firstname.lastname@example.org.