"What fate, historic mill building?"
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:07 PM
"Craig Snyder didn't want to see part of Bainbridge Island's history lost to the wrecking ball.So last winter, to alert users and passersby, Snyder placed a series of mock eviction notices inside the old concrete building at Blakely Harbor Park, announcing its condemnation.It's always been thought of as kind of a nuisance (because of vandalism), said Snyder, an island public-art advocate who works for a hi-tech firm in Seattle. But it brings up the whole issue of what to do with these old remnants.Once you get inside (the building) and see some of the views the openings frame, it's really amazing, he said.The building saw industrial use when the Port Blakely lumber mill was in its heyday at the turn of the century, and fell into disuse and ruin decades ago when the mill itself slipped into the dusty pages of island lore.When the Port Blakely Mill Company turned to land development and proposed an 853-home planned community around the harbor and surrounding 1,100 acres, the building was designated for refurbishment as the Port Blakely Rowing Club.That plan was abandoned with the rest of the development in 1994, and the building reverted to its more recent use as a popular site for teen drinking parties.To say it has been vandalized would be to understate the totality of the graffiti that cover the building's inside walls, and perhaps the artistic prowess of the vandals.Wild, colorful murals stretch across the concrete walls; empty spray cans and a carpet of smashed beer bottles attest to the building's continued popularity with a footloose segment of island youth.While conceding that it might not have found its highest and best use, Snyder doesn't want to see it come down.Why not to take the opportunity, instead of creating more rubble, to incorporate it (into the park plans), he said. It's already there.Snyder will have his say on that issue, and myriad others, as the Blakely Harbor Park Advisory Committee gets under way. The committee, which met for the first time last week, will design parking, picnicking, trails, interpretive signage - whatever improvements and uses the new park sees in the future.Other representatives will be Bart Berg, landscape architect; Nate Thomas, architect; Frank Stowell of the Bainbridge Island Land Trust; Steve Morse, biologist with the city; Carolyn Gangmark of the Environmental Protection Agency; land use attorney and land trust member Yolanka Wulff; and representatives from the historical society, the park district's aquatic program, and the Puget Sound Environmental Learning Center.The park district purchased most the harbor property, 20 acres mostly bounded by Blakely Avenue and Country Club roads, in 1999 at a cost of $2.5 million. Funding came from state, county and city grants totaling $1.5 million, and another $1 million in private contributions.An anonymous donor kicked in $500,000 earlier this year, purchasing a contiguous 0.9-acre strip on the south side of the harbor.The latter parcel includes a sprawling sandy beach and the former mill's south jetty, natural and manmade amenities coveted by park district officials but not available during the initial purchase.What an acre, said park district planner Perry Barrett.Now it's a question of just what to do with the park, and what manner of new amenities are in order. The committee's first charge will be familiarizing itself with the restrictive covenants that cover some portions of the property.The park is divided into three zones, each with its own possibilities and restrictions.Zone 1: This active use area includes the park's north shore, and part of the beach of the old mill's one-time log pond. The zone includes the concrete building, the fate of which has yet to be decided. Park officials say it could be razed, could become an interpretive center, or could see some use in between.Whether it stays or is restored is pretty open, said Dave Lewis, park district director. Everybody is pretty open to its historical implications.Zone 2: This zone includes most of the western end of the park, including the head of the former log pond and streams that feed it. The area could include fences, foot bridges, wildlife and bird blinds, picnic areas and informational signs.Zone 3: The area can include unimproved trails and pathways and interpretive signs, but that's about it. Other active uses will be prohibited.The zone designations were made in applications for the grants that funded the park's purchase.Like much of the former Port Blakely Mill Co. holdings, the harbor area has long been used as an informal park by countless islanders, despite the fact that it was private property until this past winter.Since it became an official park, Lewis said visits from islanders seem to have increased, and illicit activity has waned.I was out there last weekend, and it was just a whole new level activity out there, Snyder agreed. It's great to see.The design group meets again Aug. 21, and once a park plan is drafted, public hearings are planned, Lewis said.Snyder has set up a web site on which islanders can share their experiences on the property and in the old building, at www.travel.to/ portblakely.Under radiant skies one evening last week, the park's sole users were Eagledale resident Bob Lee and his nephew David Copeland, who was visiting from California.The pair spent several hours making fruitless attempts with a line and hook in the old mill pond. What would they like to see in the park?Said Copeland: More fish.Said Lee: Bigger fish.While he could see some improvements in order, like a ramp for kayakers and enhancement of the fish habitat, Lee suggested that the park might be best served left more or less as is.It's kind of nice in its natural state, Lee said."