April 10, 2003

To stand at the edge of the sea

  • Edmonds’ public waterfront comes together, piece by piece
    Barker Landscape Architects

    Brackett’s Landing
    Photos courtesy of Barker Landscape Architects
    Brackett’s Landing hugs the Edmonds shoreline.

    As a gateway to the Olympic Peninsula, the city of Edmonds is a lively town on Puget Sound, with expansive water vistas and an active shoreline. More than a century since its founding as a lumber town, Edmonds has developed a vision for a vibrant public waterfront and moving towards its completion.

    This vision covers over a mile of shoreline, from the ferry dock to Marina Beach Park, and is evolving into an exceptional public park system. Beach rangers conduct tours, art is everywhere, and interpretive artifacts can be found in the walls, benches and paving. The stories and unique heritage of this place have inspired much of the design.

    Layers of history and industry

    These beaches were frequented by Native Americans for fishing and gathering shellfish, roots, nuts, berries and reeds. One can only imagine how native people reacted to the tall ships that first entered Puget Sound in the 1800s.

    "To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist over a great salt marsh... is to have knowledge of things as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be."

    -- Rachel Carson

    George Brackett, who first landed here in 1870, had an eye for the huge trees growing on the western shore. For $650, he bought 147 acres of what is now downtown Edmonds. By 1895, sawmills were turning out finished lumber and shingles from these forests.

    For eight decades, the Edmonds waterfront was piled with logs and wood chips. At one time, 11 mills lined the waterfront. Seven-foot-diameter saw blades were used to cut cedar logs into shingles, and the mills were fueled by huge wood fires producing steam.

    When fires burned out of control, life in Edmonds was severely interrupted. The last mill, Quality Shingle Mill Co., closed in 1951 — and Edmonds’ waterfront was changed forever.

    After the logs were gone, boat building became the next big thing.

    During the 1930s, Ole’s Boat House leased the property which is currently Brackett’s Landing Park. The Anderson family bought the land in 1945 and began to build large, planked, wooden keelboats, sailboats, cruisers, fishing boats and commercial boats. Andy’s Boat House, where local fishermen could rent a 16-foot rowboat for $2.50 a day, was a landmark from 1948 to 1977. A small beach railway allowed them to launch boats into deep water whatever the tide.

    The property was in the Anderson family for 47 years when, in 1992, Howard Jr. sold it to the city for exclusive use as a park. “I couldn’t stand the thought of seeing cars parked all over it,” he said.

    Edmonds’ first transportation system was the mosquito fleet. These boats were named for their small size and the way they darted around the Puget Sound delivering mail and supplies.

    The Great Northern Railroad opened in 1910. At one time, eight trains stopped daily to pick up passengers and freight. By 1923, a 12-car auto ferry called the City of Edmonds began running to Kingston, and then between Port Ludlow, Port Townsend and Victoria, B.C.

    Today, the Edmonds ferry terminal is the second busiest in the state. Long-term plans include moving the landing to Marina Beach, the site of an abandoned Union 76 Terminal, further expanding public access to the shore.

    A vision realized

    Edmonds Parks has assembled the pieces to create a chain of waterfront parks connected by a pedestrian walkway. The plan will link all of these shore parcels together: Brackett’s Landing North and South, across parking areas to the senior center, Olympic Beach, the Fishing Pier and Marina Beach. They will be connected physically and visually with walkways, art, interpretive signs, landscaping, benches and picnic areas. This waterfront plan was developed by the city with the help of Makers Architects, Reid Middleton and Barker Landscape Architects.

    park wall
    One hundred glazed tiles are embedded in the park walls to help visitors imagine Edmonds’ many stories.

    After the industrial waterfront became more urban, Brackett’s Landing Park surrounding the ferry terminal was constructed in the 1980s and 1990s. The most recent work was the reconstruction of Brackett’s Landing North in 1999-2000 after a storm destroyed the old wood bulkhead.

    Brackett’s Landing North Park includes Underwater Park, a 27-acre marine preserve attracting scuba divers from all over the state. Sunken boats shelter schools of fish and marine life. The walkway is a delightful urban walk, rich with curvilinear forms and interpretive artifacts. Barker and Reid Middleton designed the park, with art by Tony Angell and Bruce Myers.

    Across the ferry terminal, Brackett’s Landing South Park is more open, with grassy dunes and biofiltration swales that drain and cleanse runoff from much of the paved and impervious surfaces nearby. Art by Robert Cooke and Bruce Myers can be found along the path, which was designed by Barker. A waterfront trail from the park is currently being designed south across nearby parking areas.

    A surplus geodesic dome from the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair was “parked” on a filled site over the sandy beach. The dome didn’t last long, but the site became parking for the South County Senior Center. The cars will soon be pushed back from the shore, and a public easement along the shore will get a new walkway, linking Brackett’s Landing and the senior center. Benches, landscaping and artwork will be installed along the walkway.

    From the senior center to Olympic Beach, the badly decayed wood bulkhead will be replaced with new soldier piles and an architectural bulkhead cap rich with natural textures and geometry. Barker, the city and Reid Middleton have designed a walkway and shoreline protection system that preserves beach habitat and allows public shore access. Art by Georgia Gerber, Bruce Myers and a new Richard Beyer sculpture will make the shoreline stroll much more interesting and unique.

    Olympic Beach, with its great views to the Olympic Mountains, will be improved later this year with beach steps, sculpture and public walkways. The 200-foot-long fishing pier was the first public saltwater fishing pier in the state and is open year around. Sculptures by Buster Simpson and interpretive signs supporting Edmonds’ Beach Ranger program enliven the walk out over the water.

    Here the city and the port share facilities, with walkways through the marina that link the city parks together, including a connection to Marina Beach Park, at the southern terminus of the Public Waterfront.

    Marina Beach Park was purchased recently with a grant from the state. Barker Landscape Architects assisted Edmonds Parks Director Arvilla Ohlde in this effort, which saved the property from private development. Marina Beach connects to Deer Creek Fish Hatchery, which releases over 100,000 salmon annually.

    The Edmonds projects bring the real wealth of the city — the sunsets, the mountains, the incredible vistas of Puget Sound — to everyone.

    John Forrest Barker is principal of Barker Landscape Architects.

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