In a past life, the picturesque peninsula off of Ruston Way was a mass of molten slag — by-product from the ASARCO smelter, abounding with arsenic and lead. Enormous cast iron kettles would pour load after load, layer after layer, of the contaminated material onto the site until the 26-acre peninsula was formed.
It’s no wonder the area conjures up a dystopian image of environmental devastation, as it did for acclaimed author Frank Herbert. Herbert was born in Tacoma, and the smelting plant impacted his environmental leanings as well as his writings. He authored the legendary science fiction series, Dune, which follows the story of a rebel group terraforming a desert planet. Terraforming — for those who aren’t sci-fi enthusiasts — is to alter an area’s ecosystem so that it can support human life.
And so, it seems fitting that this peninsula, which underwent its own version of terraforming to transform it into the park we see today, act as a tribute to Herbert. Dune Peninsula was the name chosen for the new park at Ruston Way and Frank Herbert Trail is the path that weaves through it.
Today, the park seems more utopian than dystopian. Fields of green grass and lightly swaying prairie shrubs extend to the water’s edge, where a slow-moving ferry meanders across the bay. From atop one of the sail mounds — constructed rocky hills creating vertical depth in the park – visitors can see everything from the old growth forests at Point Defiance to Mount Rainier towering over the Tacoma Dome.
Even more meaningful is the moment one realizes that this project, the largest in Metro Parks history, actually connects those old growth forests to the rest of Tacoma. The Wilson Way Bridge, named in honor of previous Metro Parks director Jack C. Wilson, is the first pedestrian access point connecting Pt. Defiance and Pt. Ruston.
Starting July 6, visitors can explore this new tourist destination and join the many whose eyes-widen at the sight of the transformation. We got a chance to tour the site while they were putting on the finishing touches — painting the pagoda, oiling the benches, brushing up the gravel aprons, etc. — and compiled a list of the things you can’t miss when the park opens up:
- Dune Peninsula: This 11-acre park is separated by a mechanical cap and 20 feet of soil from any remnants of contaminated slag. It shares the peninsula with the Tacoma Yacht club and boasts amazing views of Commencement Bay, Mount Rainier, Vashon Island, and more.
- Frank Herbert Trail: This is the first thing in Tacoma named after the famed science fiction author who was born here. The peninsula is named after his popular series, Dune. Follow the trail and ascend all three of the sail mounds, the tall rock structures with stairs to the peak, for unbeatable views.
- Wilson Way Bridge: Connecting Point Defiance with Point Ruston, this bridge is 605 feet long and 50 feet tall. It was named in honor of retired Metro Parks Executive Director Jack C. Wilson. The center of the bridge is called The Moment, because just about every person walking over the bridge stops for at least a moment to take in the view.
- Slides & Stairs: At the east end of the bridge, you’ll find a series of stairs and slides (yes, slides) on the face of the 50 foot slope. The display is reminiscent of chutes and ladders, and allows visitors to slide down to the marina below. A stairwell accompanies each slide for those who prefer to keep their feet on the ground.
- Art pieces: Visitors will find ample public art displays throughout the park. At the entrance, a giant kettle pays homage to the kettles that used to transport in tons of contaminated slag. Nearby the pagoda, an art piece called Alluvian by artist Adam Kuby disintegrates by half over and over again until there are 256 minuscule pieces of pipe scattered along the lawn. In September, sculptures of the fictional sandtrout in Dune will be installed on top of one of the sail mound peaks.
- Cambia Event Lawn: What may appear to first-time visitors as a grassy lawn and concrete stage is something to pay close attention to in the future. This location is capable of holding outdoor concerts, plays, and much more.