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Scenes of beauty, and great tales of industry

Along every trail, a tale.

Blakely Harbor Park would become a walkable timeline, a serene setting that still speaks of a much busier past, under a draft plan released this week.

“After working with so many sites on the island that are environmentally special, it was interesting to see one that was such a ‘human’ site that returned to nature,” said Perry Barrett, senior planner for the Bainbridge Island Park and Recreation District. “We want to tell two stories on this property.”

Barrett and representatives of the Seattle-based Portico Group consultants will present the draft plan to the park board at its regular meeting, 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Strawberry Hill Center.

The proposed plan addresses future uses on 21 acres of parkland around the head of Blakely Harbor, purchased from Port Blakely Tree Farms with $3 million in grants and private funds in 2000.

The plan was developed after a series of public workshops last year. Through the comments of naturalists, historians and neighbors, twin visions emerged: preserving and enhancing the park’s fragile physical features, while at the same time recalling the island’s industrial past.

A century ago, the Port Blakely mill turned out more than 100,000 board feet of lumber each day; the town around it boasted scores of homes, a store and 120-guest hotel, a school, public hall and post office.

The population swelled from 400 in 1880 to more than 1,000 a decade later.

Today, the only remnants of those activities are a crumbling concrete building, several rebuilt stone jetties around the one-time log pond, and the stubs of pilings across which a great boardwalk once stretched.

To tell the tale, the draft plan envisions a series of trails, bridges and boardwalks dotted by interpretive signs and markers.

Key to the storytelling, Barrett said, would be the concrete building, of late a site for graffiti vandalism and youth parties.

The building would be reclaimed as an open-air interpretive center – in Barrett’s words, “a portal of time” – its displays augmented by windows with views of the harbor and other landmarks.

The park entrance would be at Blakely Hill Road, with a picnic lawn, 20-car parking area and restroom facility. The plan anticipates that 3-T Road, which loops through the park’s northeast corner, would be closed and torn up.

Intensity of use would wane as one traveled around the harbor; the western meadow by Country Club Road would include bird blinds, Barrett said, while the southernmost corner would see little more than wooded trails.

The plan also assumes that the old jetties will stay, and the district is already looking for volunteers to help restore a salmon stream feeding the log pond they define.

If the plan is approved, the next challenge will be raising funds to complete the estimated $1.6 million in improvements.

The park district, strapped for cash and already facing a significant hike in its operations levy next year, will look for more state grants and private donations to cover the work, Barrett said.

“We hope to tell these stories as well as we can,” he said, “and do it justice.”

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