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Bloedel Reserve turns 25: Officials provide peek into coming changes to the beloved island garden

Additions to the gateway will include a new entry road, gift shop and refreshment house. - Courtesy of the Bloedel Reserve
Additions to the gateway will include a new entry road, gift shop and refreshment house.
— image credit: Courtesy of the Bloedel Reserve

Bainbridge Island’s cherished public garden has been 25 years in the making.

Now it’s time to look ahead to the next quarter of a century, officials say.

As the 25th anniversary of the Bloedel Reserve approaches in October, garden officials are looking to develop the next steps that will guide the ornate land into the future.

“Part of the way we are celebrating this 25th anniversary is that we are looking back and looking forward at the same time,” said Ed Moydell, executive director of the Bloedel Reserve.

The reserve will unveil a new draft master plan at a series of events commemorating its anniversary over the summer, as well as at its booth at the island’s Grand Old Fourth of July celebration. Officials hope to garner feedback from its more than 4,000 members as well as from the island community.

The reserve will begin acting on its new master plan in 2014. The many proposed changes will be addressed over the next 25 years.

The draft plan approved by the reserve’s board of trustees and created by local architect Johnpaul Jones, proposes many small, yet considerable, changes to the estate.

Moydell noted that the first master plan focused on bringing together what was once various individual gardens.

“The Bloedel Reserve was a collection of independent experiences and that master plan was an attempt to tie them all together,” he said.

The new master plan will be an extension of the old.

For example, 30 acres of new trails are proposed to further property cohesion.

“By the time this is done we will have more than 100 acres open to the public,” Moydell said.

The renowned visitor center, a French-style chateau, will also be further opened to the public. Only the first floor has been available to visitors, and it has served as a concert and educational space. The upstairs has been reserved for staff and administration.

Staff will move to a yet-to-be determined location, and the second floor will open to the public in the coming years.

“It makes more sense for 50,000 people a year to have access to that second floor, so we are going to pack up and move out,” Moydell said. “The second floor will become the public library; there is a study up there where you can sit down and read a book.”

The first floor will be converted to present more of a museum feel and will showcase historical features and art exhibits.

The only construction at the chateau will be a minor expansion to the garage area, though additional parking will be developed around the corner from the building. A small kitchen will also be added to the visitor center, near the garage, to provide coffee, tea and a bite to eat.

“We won’t be having four-course meals or anything,” Moydell said. “It’s very small.”

The garden’s popularity has grown over the years. To accommodate this growth, officials plan to develop a new entry road to the west of the current gate. The entry will wrap around additional buildings planned for the gateway.

“One of the biggest issues we have is how people enter into the property,” Moydell explained.

The new approach will attempt to make it easier to enter and leave the property, while expanding the current gift shop structure. Ultimately, three more neighboring buildings will be constructed.

“Now, we sell merchandise, welcome people that we orient, and sell tickets all within a 300-square-foot space,” he said. “We will add on more space for the gift shop, a new area to orient people, a place to get a latte or a cup of tea, and new restroom facilities.”

Moydell stressed that the reserve aims to keep the buildings “pretty low key.”

The gateway won’t be the only new addition. The sheep shed where people start their walks around the Bloedel Reserve will also receive a considerable facelift. It will be converted into an educational center and event space.

The barn will be modified into a space for concerts and lectures that can accommodate up to 200 people. The connecting building will be used for educational classes.

Behind the shed, a new play area for children will also be built.

Further plans to upgrade the maintenance and horticulture area are also in the works.

Aside from the changes to the property itself, Moydell said that he hopes the Bloedel Reserve will be able to better convey its history and unique story.

“Part of why we want to better tell the story about the reserve is that people don’t really know who Prentice and Virginia Bloedel were,” he said.

“Mr. Bloedel was an early conservationist. He inherited the family business from his dad who was a timber baron and he turned the company into a conservation-minded business,” he said. “It’s why he bought this property, and why he developed it the way that it is.

“The heart of where we are going in the future is to communicate how you can be both beautiful and responsible,” Moydell said.

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