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New Park Inspired by History and Heritage

Smiles and laughter fill the new Melanie’s Park on the Thea Foss Waterway


 

Melanie’s Park on the Thea Foss Waterway

Photo by Russ Carmack


By Jillian Chandler


In April 2024, just in time for the spring and summer months, a new park opened up in Tacoma, and it’s a site to be seen and experienced.


“The design of Melanie’s Park is inspired by its history, both as the traditional homeland of the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and as a heating plant during a century of industrial use,” explains Kristi Evans, Capital Program Manager - Community & Neighborhood Parks for Metro Parks Tacoma.


The play area, inspired by Northwest themes and history, features a winding metal slide descending from a climbing tower that evokes a 200-foot smokestack once located on the site in the early 1900s. Additionally, a log jam play area pays homage to the past. To honor the tribal heritage, interpretive signs provide information about the Tribe’s historical and ongoing presence on the waterfront, including Lushootseed words with their pronunciations and the importance of the local Fishing Wars in upholding treaty rights. The park's concrete walkways are adorned with Coast Salish basket weaving designs by the mother-daughter duo Denise Reed and Sharron Nelson. These designs — passed down through generations—symbolize their tribal history and cherished elements such as mountains, ocean, canoes, animals, family, and gathering plants.


“The most unique feature of this park is the 36-foot climbing tower and 23-foot slide,” notes Kristi. “Kids — and adults — are clamoring to try it out and can’t get enough! It’s also the only park with play structures close to downtown Tacoma and on the Thea Foss Waterway.”


According to Kristi, the three-quarter-acre park is named after Melanie LaPlant Dressel, a community and banking leader who helped found Columbia Bank and held the top job there until her death in 2017. She earned a reputation as a savvy businesswoman, held positions on multiple community boards, and was known for her kind heart and fondness for children.


Though there is no designated parking for Melanie’s Park, it is situated within walking distance of many public parking lots. In addition, there is an ADA-accessible street parking space in front of the park. The park was built to ADA accessibility standards, which includes pathways around the park, the pedestrian bridge and viewing areas. There are several trees on-site, picnicking and viewing areas, restrooms, and a pavilion that can be rented for small parties and events.


When asked what she hopes visitors to the park will take away from their experience, Kristi shares, “We always hope our visitors have fun and build memories — which is easy to do with a 50-foot pedestrian bridge and viewing platform with expansive views of downtown, Mount Rainier and a marina. It’s the perfect place to sit on a boardwalk, relax among native plants and listen to children laugh. We also hope they [walk away with] a better understanding of the site’s history and the remarkable cleanup that was completed in 2006 after the Environmental Protection Agency declared it a Superfund site.”


In 1983, after a century of industrial use, the Environmental Protection Agency declared a 12-acre stretch of Commencement Bay a Superfund site and ordered a cleanup. The City of Tacoma teamed up with those responsible for dumping waste into the waterway and embarked on the massive cleanup. Officials then envisioned a vibrant walkway that could help redevelop the area, bringing parks, businesses, restaurants and apartment buildings to the waterfront.


Foss Waterway Development Authority started the fundraising for Melanie’s Park — which includes $1.2 million in private donations, $750,000 from the City of Tacoma, $490,000 from Washington state and $50,000 from Pierce County. Metro Parks contributed $2.2 million in voter-approved bonds.


Melanie’s Park can be found at 1147 Dock Street along Thea Foss Waterway.

 


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