Revamped boardwalk good for Olympia

Olympia officials have taken the first step to replace the Percival Landing boardwalk, an incredible community asset that serves as Olympia's front porch to southern Puget Sound.

While critics may chastise the city for spending money during an economic recession, the fact is the boardwalk is deteriorating, and it’s imperative that city officials act now to preserve this iconic part of Olympia’s culture and heritage.

Percival Landing Park at Columbia Street and Olympia Avenue, was named after the old commercial steamship wharf, a well-known maritime landmark in the Northwest. According to Olympia officials, the original dock, built by Sam Percival in 1860, was operated by the Percival family.

In a stroke of genius more than 30 years ago, Olympia officials envisioned, then built a boardwalk lining the eastern shore of the inlet — a place for families to gather and stroll the Budd Inlet waterfront — a place to view the majestic snow capped Olympic Mountains in the distance, boats coming and going from area marinas, and a place to watch the sun reflecting off the waters at the southernmost tip of Puget Sound.

The first phase of Percival Landing was completed and opened in 1978. Phase two was opened in 1985, and the third, and final phase was completed three years later.

The 0.9-mile boardwalk extends from the Fourth Avenue Bridge to Thurston Avenue and the Port of Olympia Plaza. The city completed acquisition of the former Unocal Tank Farm site in 1996 and turned the property into a spacious park and playground that are extremely popular with young families. The park, across the street from The Olympia Center, is used by residents and visitors for picnics and as a gathering place during special community events.

The Percival Landing boardwalk has two restrooms, one at the park and the other near the Olympia Yacht Club.

But the truth is, 30 years of heavy use and tidal action have taken a terrible toll on the wooden-planked boardwalk. Portions of the walkway have been placed off limits because they pose a safety hazard to the public.

Last fall, the city awarded an initial contract with MVG, LLC, to begin facility repairs at Percival Landing. The project, which is under way, includes freeboard and float repairs, timber cross-bracing and pile repairs, gangway transition plate extensions and other work.

But the real work to preserve and enhance Percival Landing begins in July when the city launches a $10.4 million upgrade.

The bad news is, much of the popular walking trail and park will be closed for up to a year. The good news is, once complete, the revived boardwalk is going to be a stellar addition to the capital city.

The old boardwalk from State Avenue to Thurston Avenue will be removed and replaced with a path over land. The boardwalk will be made of wood and concrete. A new, marine-themed bathhouse will be built, along with two interpretive pavilions. In addition, the shoreline will be restored with native plants.

Kip Summers, an engineer for the city, said 725 linear feet of new boardwalk will be constructed.

City Parks Director Linda Oestreich said the city incorporated suggestions from the public into the final design. For example, people liked the feel of the wooden boardwalk, so wood is part of the design, even though it will be built on land instead of over the water, where it would be more difficult to maintain.

People wanted more flowers, Oestreich said, so more blooms were designed, especially at the entrances to the park. People wanted to preserve views, so the bathhouse and a playground were reoriented. The architecture was changed to one that’s more light and airy, with lots of windows and architecture that mimics wooden boats.

Plans include a concrete boardwalk on pillars that will sweep across the water, as well as new floats and gangways.

The portion from State Avenue to the area around The Oyster House on Fourth Avenue won’t be replaced because it’s too expensive right now.

Replacing the boardwalk on the eastern shore became one of the city’s priorities in 2004, after a structural report showed significant deterioration and danger of collapse.

The city is using local funds for about half the $10.4 million project. The state Legislature contributed $3 million with the federal government paying about $1 million. The rest is from competitive state grants.

This is a wise investment of public tax dollars because Olympia’s waterfront is a focal point for the city, a must-see for out-of-town guests and an invaluable asset for future generations. The reconstructed boardwalk and ancillary facilities are going to be a remarkable addition to the capital city and a source of great community pride.