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At the bottom, a treasure

(Top) Neighborhood resident Kristen Tollefson descends the Rose Loop road end stairs with her children and 7-year-old family friend Martine Sogn-Larssen. The new stairs replace an original 1925 version and one that was rebuilt again around 1970. (Bottom) Ben Scott, 9, and Lauritz Sogn-Larssen, 4, comb the tidal waters of Eagle Harbor near the Rose Loop stairs for water treasures and marine life. - Brad Camp/Staff Photos
(Top) Neighborhood resident Kristen Tollefson descends the Rose Loop road end stairs with her children and 7-year-old family friend Martine Sogn-Larssen. The new stairs replace an original 1925 version and one that was rebuilt again around 1970. (Bottom) Ben Scott, 9, and Lauritz Sogn-Larssen, 4, comb the tidal waters of Eagle Harbor near the Rose Loop stairs for water treasures and marine life.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photos

Newly rebuilt stairs link Eagledale with Eagle Harbor’s

beautiful shoreline.

The newly constructed staircase twists down a steeply graded hillside, suggesting endless switchbacks with no bottom in sight. But at the end of the Rose Loop stairs lies a precious slice of shoreline along Eagle Harbor.

“Look at that,” Bitsy Ostenson said, regarding the harbor from the small stretch of beach. “Why wouldn’t a neighborhood want that?”

Ostenson, chair of the city’s Road End Advisory Committee, is one among many characters in the story of how the Rose Loop staircase came to be completed this month.

In a short, impressionistic history of the Rose Loop road end, island fisherman Paul Svornich described how around 1925 his “Grandpa Tony” built the first set of stairs to the shore, where there stood a small landing, a short pier and a nearby float, to which families tied their dinghies and skiffs.

“Skiffs were far more important in those days,” Svornich writes. “For many, they were a primary means of transportation. Several of the shipyard workers who lived in Eagledale used this float for their daily commute to Winslow.”

The stairs built by Anton Svorinich (his surname spelled differently than his grandson’s) began to fall into disrepair when he died in 1963, with a brief renaissance around 1970 when a “young hippie” named Ken asked Paul’s father, Matt, if he and his girlfriend could move into the shed at the bottom of the stairs.

“My Dad told him that he didn’t care if Ken lived there, but it didn’t matter what he thought anyway because it was part of a public road end,” Svornich says. “He did recommend that Ken fix up the stairs first, though.”

These days, that general spirit of public right prevails, albeit in a different form and with a somewhat stricter set of processes in place – largely city-fueled, but sometimes, as in the case of Rose Loop, with a peppering of neighborhood drive.

The Road End Advisory Committee was formed in 1992 through a resolution by the City Council to promote community access to the shoreline. The committee surveyed each of the 70-odd water access road ends around the island, marked their boundaries, held information sessions with neighborhood groups and made access plan recommendations to the council.

In 1998, the council approved actions for Rose Loop that included clearing brush from the right-of-way; removing an existing, unsafe ladder and installing a safe stairway; and marking the boundaries with clear signage.

But the recommendations remained just those for years – until 2002, when a group of neighbors put together a petition that firmly reminded the city to put Rose Loop back on its priority list.

Thus began a years-long series of design sessions, permit applications and public meetings involving the neighborhood, the road end committee, Public Works and the City Council.

“Everybody worked really, really hard, but there’s so much work...and so many voices,” Ostenson said of the process. “You want to make sure you do it right.”

Thirty-five people attended one public meeting in late 2005. They included Paul Svornich, who for the first time offered up his informal family history of the road end and its staircase.

Jack Christiansen, a longtime and recently retired structural engineer, also presented a design for the stairs.

His explanation for the frequent turn in the stairs, which also feature metal traction runners and a dotting of built-in benches, is practical.

“The attempt was made to have the stairway follow the grade as close as possible,” he said, “and it’s a rather steep grade, so like you’d switch back a trail, you switch back a grade.”

A long, straight staircase isn’t comfortable, “especially when you’re going back up.”

Kristen Tollefson, who lives on nearby Eagle Harbor Drive but who has walked Rose Loop since her son’s infancy, serves on the city’s Design Review Board and notes the unique flavors among road ends island wide.

“All the different characters of all the different road ends are wonderful,” she said. “They’re like little secret discoveries when you go down.”

Like Christiansen, Tol­lef­son is more interested in function than form.

“I’m really happy to see any perforation of the beach because I just think that it’s one of the special reasons of living on Bainbridge, to have access to the water,” she said.

Svornich agrees.

“I’m a strong advocate of the public right of way to the water,” he said. “And in the long-term vision, I’d love to see as many road ends as feasible developed into stairways and floats, so that the neighborhoods...can have access to the water, the way they used to.”

As Ostenson looks out onto the harbor, a dinghy motors by, loud laughter echoing among the neighboring boats.

“Now that’s acceptable,” she said. “But if you did that on the beach, you’d get your bell rung.”

Her point is that respectful and responsible use of public waterfront – “to appreciate the access and not abuse it” – is paramount.

On that point, she said, she understands the position of private property owners who live near public access points and who may have concerns about over-usage – Fletcher Landing and Lytle Road being recent examples.

Yet Ostenson points out that historically, road ends have been primarily used by neighbors and believes that with flexibility and mutual good will, neighborhoods on the main benefit from public water access.

“As far as encouraging huge amounts of parking,” she added of Rose Loop, “it just doesn’t exist.”

Nine years after the idea took hold, the Rose Loop staircase was completed by Fischer Construction this month.

“We worked it through, and everybody had their chance,” Ostenson said. “We’re delighted to have the project completed, and very hopeful that it serves the neighborhood well.”

Tollefson, who grew up on the north end of the island, said she never even knew until recently that the beach she roamed as a child was private. She said lately, she has read and thought a great deal about the nature of living on a land mass surrounded entirely by water.

“I think there are some interesting and positive things that can come up of living on an island community,” she said. “In order to sustain living on an island, you have to have an elevated level of compassion and getting over things.

“Road ends and access to the beach have been a view out of that, while you’re still able to stay on it.”

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