Olympia Things to Do

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Most Recent Things to Do in Olympia

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    Mima Mounds

    by glabah Updated Jan 30, 2014

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    NOTE: As of July of 2011, it is required to have a Discover Pass or pay a day use fee for Washington public lands.

    Local Native American tribes tell the story of a girl that refused to wash her face, due to the possible severe repercussions such a washing might have. When they were finally able to convince her that she really should wash her face, a thunderstorm formed after the washing. This storm caused the formation of thousands and thousands of mounds of earth south of Olympia. These mounds, regularly spaced, mostly round, and most of them six to eight feet tall, remain on the flatlands south of Olympia to this day - except in places where development has removed them.

    Scientists have argued about what caused the Mima Mounds (named after the Mima Prairie on which they sit) south of Olympia to form for many decades, and still there is no good explanation as to what has caused these odd soil lumps to be created. In the absence of a good scientific theory, the Native American legend is as good as anything else that has been proposed.

    Early American explorers thought they might be burial mounds, but discovered after digging that all they found inside, beside, and under the mounds was more dirt, and sometimes rocks. Also, the Native American traditions do not treat this as a holy or forbidden place of any sort, and so most likely it has nothing to do with any creation of the First People.

    Today, decades of urban development and farmland creation have left only a portion of the Mima Mounds remaining, and one of the best preserved examples of this odd geological formation is located in the 636 acre Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve, owned by the State of Washington.

    The natural preserve has approximately two miles (3.3 km) of unpaved trails, a 1/2 mile (0.8 km) paved trail, a small parking area, and an information kiosk with an elevated viewing deck that is only accessible by staircase. Resroom facilities are limited to a pit toilet.

    A slightly elevated wooden platform with a ramp up to it exists along the paved trail, about halfway around the paved loop.

    Dogs, horses, and bicycles are not allowed into this or most other locations managed by the Washington State Fish and Wildlife.

    The trails are almost entirely within the unshaded section of the plain, and therefore on a hot sunny day this area is also going to be uncomfortably hot.

    If you hear a lot of gunshots, try not to worry too much. There is a firing range on the other side of the natural preserve, but the gunfire is supposedly aimed away from the natural preserve.

    The wild flowers here, though being put to the test by various invasive species, are a very special feature of the mounds. This includes camas (which was a very important plant in the diet of local Native American tribes) and several very rare wild flowers that only grow in the Puget Trough (the narrow band of land in which Puget Sound sits).

    There is a bike rack here for those who arrive by bike and wish to lock up their bike while they walk the trail. Bikes are not permitted on the preserved prairie, even on the trails.

    For a few additional photos, see my Mima Mounds tip in Littlerock and my Mima Mounds tip in Washington.

    thousands of mounds dot the Mima Plain elevated viewing platform and interpretive signs elevated platform and paved trail Mima Mounds may be forested or grasslands Mima Mounds may be forested or grasslands
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    Capitol Lake

    by glabah Updated Jan 9, 2014

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    The above photo shows Capitol Lake from the trail that surrounds the northern part of the lake. To the left side it is possible to see the dome of the "new" (as of the 1910s) Capitol Building. The northern part of Capitol Lake and the forests surrounding the lake dominate this scene.

    Many years ago, a dam and dike were constructed across the mouth of the Deschutes River, creating a fresh water lake at the former tidal flat and river delta. This created an artificial lake that was to be an attraction and benefit for the people of Olympia.

    The creation of the lake was proposed as part of an architectural plan for creating the "new" (for 1911) State Capitol building. The lake was proposed to serve as a large reflecting pool for the capitol building, which was built on a small rise directly above the lake. While construction of the Capitol Building and campus was started just after the plan for it was in 1911, it was not until 1951 that the dam across the mouth of the inlet was created, forming the new lake.

    Such massive changes to the natural landscape were common in the early 1900s as part of the "City Beautiful Movement" and creating the architectural style called "American Renaissance", which involved buildings but also modifying the landscape to fit the buildings.

    Today, the lake is split into two sections. The northern part, closest to the dam creating it, has a 1.5 mile (2.5 km) trail around its perimeter. There are two parks around the edge of this northern part of the lake, but unfortunately approximately 1/3 of the loop around the northern part of the lake right next to a busy road (Deschutes Parkway). The remaining 2/3 of the loop around the northern part of the lake include some park land that is heavily developed, but the land that is closest to the "new" (for 1913) Capitol building itself is maintained in a reasonably natural state.

    The trail around the north part of the lake has a number of memorial stones in it, which commemorate each county in the State of Washington. This wall is called the Arc of Statehood. The trail also features a number of signs that give a little history about the area, as well as some plans and ongoing disputes about the future (for example, what should be done with Capitol Lake today, as it is slowly filling up with silt and in a number of ways functioned best as a tidal salt water estuary).

    During the winter months, the lake has quite a number of different waterfowl that winter on it. This includes canvasback, ring necked duck, bufflehead, scaup, and coot. Bald eagles are year-round residents in the forests around the lake. Kingfishers are also year-round residents but live closer to the edges of the lake. See my Capitol Lake Bird Life travelogue and December 28th Photos for a few photos of the birds that are found here in the winter.

    The section of the lake that is south, which comprises some 2/3 of the actual lake body, does not have a loop trail as the land on the east side of the lake is private. The sidewalk along the road on the west side of the lake (Deschutes Parkway) is somewhat unpleasant to walk along due to the amount of traffic on the road, but there are enough breaks in traffic that there are periods of rest and going early in the morning on a Sunday or some other very low traffic time will make the visit more pleasant here. However, even during the higher traffic periods there are brief interludes where it is possible to hear birds in the lake and in the surrounding forest, which give glimpses of what the area was like before it was a popular thoroughfare. The very south side of the lake has busy and loud Interstate 5 along it, making it also somewhat unpleasant, but the forest surrounding it at least muffles the freeway noise quite nicely - and in some places the trail on the south side of the lake is more pleasant that the one along Deschutes Way.

    The southern part of the lake icontinues south all the way to the city of Tumwater and the falls located in Tumwater Falls Park. After passing along the north side of the fill created by Interstate 5 the trail then passes under the freeway and through Tumwater's Historical Park. See my Tumwater to Olympia Trail tip.

    If you follow the sidewalk south along the lake you will eventually come to a place where it branches off to the east. If you follow this, it runs along the south side of the lake, passes under Interstate 5 at a bridge, and then enters Tumwater Historical Park, connecting the cities of Tumwater and Olympia. You can then continue up the hill on a trail in this park to get to Tumwater Falls Park. See my Tumwater - Olympia Trail and Tumwater Historical Park and Tumwater Falls Park tips for more information.

    Unfortunately, there are many problems with the lake. There is an invasive snail that inhabits the lake water, and there have been infectious diseases spread by people dumping human waste into the lake. Therefore, all access (boat, swimming, etc.) has been cut off from the water of the lake itself.

    The web site below is for Heritage Park, which is as close as one can find for an official web site about the lake itself.

    1911 Capitol Building on Left plus Capitol Lake Capitol Lake and Capitol Building reflection Trail around Capitol Lake includes History Signs North Part of Capitol Lake from Capitol Hill Trail on South Side of Lake connects to Tumwater
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    Wasington State Captitol

    by machomikemd Written Nov 22, 2013

    the state Capitol of Washington State lies in Olympia, Lying along Interstate 5 south, about 60 miles south of Seattle and a few minutes drive from the Outlet Stores of Centralia. The Capitol houses the state legislative building and the State Supreme Court and State Governor's House.

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    Childrens Hands on Museum

    by PeterVancouver Updated Nov 20, 2013

    A wonderful experience for our three grandchildren of between 3 and 7 years old and well worth the 4 hour drive from Canada down the I5

    There is so much of truly hands on activities that even after a long trip, they all managed to keep more than busy from noon until the closing time of 17.00hrs.

    Wish we had something like this in Vancouver as although Science World Vancouver is good, it has nothing like the hands on activities of the Olympia Museum

    It is a bonus to travel to the Hands on Museum during the third week of August as in the surrounding streets there are numerous activities going on including a display numerous designs all made from sand, plus a huge range of foods from around the world from food carts in the area.

    The Museum has recently opened a Outdoor Discovery Center which is currently being further developed

    see http://www.hocm.org/page.php?id=487

    Hands on Childrens Museum Olympia So much to investigate Check out And play Example of sand sculpture Olympia
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    Chehalis Western Trail

    by glabah Updated Oct 20, 2013

    In the early 1980s Weyerhaeuser decided it was time to cease operation of its railroad between its properties in the Cascades foothills and Puget Sound. Parts of this railroad remained in operation into the 1990s, and one shop facility stayed open until around 2005.

    However, today, there are some 35 miles of ex-logging railroad that have been converted into a bicycle trail. Much of the route is fairly suburban, but other areas are reasonably rural. The right of way is paved for much of the distance.

    Far from being only an Olympia thing to do, the trail goes through Lacy, passes near Tenino, the community of Rainier, and reasonably far into the forest. At milepost 21, the trail intersects the Yelm to Tenino Trail. The section past this junction is not very well developed.

    The trail also intersects the Woodland Trail, which runs east to west somewhat south of Interstate 5, between a suburban area of Olympia and a suburban area of Lacy.

    The north end of the Chehalis Western trail is located on Puget Sound on Woodard Bay. The trail head and parking lot are just south of the intersection of Woodard Bay Road and Lemmon Road. See my Woodard Bay Trailhead tip, located in Boston Harbor (the closest community to that location). It has a reasonably nice paved parking area in heavy shade and a portable toilet, but to go south from there on the trail you must cross several busy roads at grade.

    Another trailhead exists near Chambers Lakes, towards the south side of Olympia. See my Chambers Lakes Trailhead tip. This trailhead features flush toilets. Here, there are also road crossings but there are also a few bridges over the worst of the roads.

    One short section of the trail does not exist and requires the use of local roads to complete the trail as the railroad route has been completely obliterated due to road expansion and real estate development. This is the section from Pacific Avenue (which is busy and not easy to cross - and an obstacle has been placed in the middle of the road in order to prevent people from crossing here) to the Woodland Trail - a distance of about 300 feet / 100 meters.

    Various other trailheads exist, scattered along the length of the trail. Currently, only the four or five major trailheads have restroom facilities and developed parking facilities.

    The trail passes right next to the Monarch Sculpture Park, which has led to the suggestion that the entire trail be populated with various works of art along its entire length.

    Milepost markers are located approximately every 1/2 mile so that the map of the trail may be connected with your actual location along it.

    In my opinion, the section from Pacific Avenue north to Woodard Bay is probably the less interesting part of the trail, as it is mostly suburban development. The more rural areas that are further away from the suburban sprawl provides more unique areas to pass through.

    Chehalis Western Trail is Paved Bike Path Map of Thurston County Trails at Trailhead Trail near Chambers Lakes Trailhead
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    Visiting the Capitol and its Grounds

    by glabah Updated May 27, 2013

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    In the very early 1900s, there was a movement to create artificial and massive classical public works as part of the "City Beautiful" efforts. This era reached its pinnacle in such structures as the 1911 designed (and not completed until the late 1920s) Capitol Building in Olympia. The plan called for the capitol campus to overlook a freshwater lake created from a former tidal marsh (completed in 1951 and now called Capitol Lake) and many other features inspired by mixing American culture with European inspired classical architecture.

    100 years after it was designed, the Capitol building still dominates the skyline of Olympia. The top of the capitol dome is visible from Interstate 5 in both directions as the freeway comes down the hill towards downtown Olympia, but remarkably the freeway and its noise has been mostly hidden from the capitol grounds. The dominating effect of the building has much to do with its position on a small hill overlooking the city and surrounding area, making the building seem much taller than it actually is.

    The grounds are fairly extensive, especially when you include the surrounding park lands such as Capitol Lake, and there are a number of monuments on the grounds as well. This includes the World War I and World War II monuments.

    Naturally the main attraction here is the huge Capitol Building itself. There are self-guided and guided tours of this structure. Tours of this structure operate on weekdays and weekends, but not on major holidays. For those interested in architectural details, the huge chandelier, which is about the size and weight of a large automobile, should be visited. The closest you can get to it is from the upper level balconies, but this is close enough to get an idea of the sheer size and huge amount of ornamental details on this light. (See photo 2).

    However, many of the other public buildings on the campus of the capitol are also open for touring on your own, but they are only open on weekdays. Thus, my suggestion to visit the capitol campus on a week day if possible due to the possibility of visiting these other buildings if you are interested in them.

    Unfortunately, one of the great landmarks of the Capitol Campus was removed in 2010: The Chief William Shelton Story Pole had decayed beyond safe limits and therefore had to be taken down, after serving as a reminder and monument to First Nations and settlers peaceful relations. It was dedicated in 1940.

    There are over 17 different smaller artworks and memorial sites scattered through the Capitol grounds, and in my opinion the state has put a much better and extensive effort into documenting this for its tourists than the State of Oregon capitol building and its campus.

    The web site below requires some exploration to find everything, but it is the best source of information about what you will find here.

    The Capitol Building and its Grounds Huge Chandelier hangs from Dome of Capitol
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    Tumwater: Its Parks and Falls

    by glabah Written Aug 8, 2012

    Olympia and Tumwater are cities that today essentially form one urban area. At one time downtown Tumwater was slightly south of Capitol Lake. However, much of what was once downtown Tumwater was destroyed over the years due to construction of what is now Interstate 5. The two are very close, and in fact today it is very difficult to distinguish the borders of one from the other. Walking south on the trail from Capitol Lake, you pass from Olympia to Tumwater without really realizing it has happened.

    For many years, Olympia's most famous tourist attraction was actually in Tumwater: the Olympia Brewery was next to the Tumwater falls of the Descutes River. Unfortunately, the building has been up for sale since 2003 as Olympia Beer is now made in California by new owners SAB Miller. Tours are no longer offered of the building as it is no longer an active industry.

    However, Tumwater remains an interesting little town that is worth a look if you are visiting the Olympia area. What little of the old downtown area that has survived has been preserved in Tumwater Historical Park.
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/224285/
    The falls of the Descutes River that sparked the community and the industry that started the town are now surrounded by Tumwater Falls Park
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/p/m/223fe0/
    This little park offers a loop of trails that go down the hill on which the falls occur, with a total length of somewhat less than 1 mile.

    See My Tumwater Page for more information on this city that makes up part of the Olympia - Tumwater - Lacy urban area.
    http://members.virtualtourist.com/m/5f9c8/da830/

    The Bottom of the Three Falls of Tumwater Falls Olympia Brewery was Actually in Tumwater
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    The purple azaleas at the Capitol

    by joiwatani Written Oct 27, 2011

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    During the Spring time, the Capitol is like painted in pink and purple. There are the Cherry blossoms in pink and the petals would fall and color the ground pink! The tiny shrubs of purple azaleas are giving contrast to the gray and dull cement structures and pavements overlooking the Heritage Park.

    The purple azaleals are beautiful and if they are planted in groups make an outstanding color of the landscape of the Capitol grounds!

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    The beautiful Cherry Blossoms at the Capitol

    by joiwatani Written Oct 27, 2011

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    My sisters said the Cherry Blossoms in Japan are beautiful and I told them that we also have Cherry blossoms in Washington State. These were imported by the Americans, if not most of the cherry blossom trees were donated by the Japanese government a long time ago. I had seen rows and rows of cherry blossoms at the University of Washington Campus in Seattle, and the walkways of an college in Vancouver, Washington.

    Then when I visited the capitol, I saw once again rows of beautiful Cherry blossoms. They were stunningly beautiful!

    My sisters were with me and we were taking a lot of pictures of us with the Cherry blossoms.

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    The view of the Heritage Park

    by joiwatani Written Oct 27, 2011

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    Once you are at the Capitol, you can go to the side of the hill and see the view of the Heritage Park.

    During the Spring time, there are many rhododendron here with different colors. When we came here, the flowers were so beautiful.

    Sometimes, you also see people lying down an elongated cemented chair. They come here to see the view or just lie down and take a nap.

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    The Heritage Park

    by joiwatani Written Oct 27, 2011

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    Heritage Park is a 24-acre state-owned park adjacent to the State Capitol Campus, Capitol Lake and downtown Olympia. It is the northern extension of the historic West Capitol Campus. For more information, see:
    Walk/run the park
    Plan an event at the park
    Tour the park
    Learn about park history



    Park hours:
    Dawn to dusk. Security provided by the Washington State Patrol.

    Parking:
    Metered city parking can be found on Water Street, and free parking is available in the lot within the park, at 5th Avenue and Yashiro Street.

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------



    Walk/run the park

    The park features walking/running paths that encircle the entire perimeter of the park and Capitol Lake, and connect to other pedestrian paths. The Heritage Park Trail, a switchback trail at the south end of the park, winds its way up to the historic Capitol Campus on the bluff above.

    For more information, see Capitol Lake trails.

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    The Wing Victory

    by joiwatani Written Oct 27, 2011

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    Location:You can see this Wing Victory Statue once you got in to the grounds of the State Capitol. It is on the circular drive around before you can go to the Capitol Building and/or the Legislative Building. This was created by artist Alonzo Victor Lewis who was born in 1886 and died in 1946. This statue was made because of the joint cooperation of the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars although this was funded by the public through the sale of lands and federal grants. The material is bronze on granite base.

    Inscriptions:

    East face: WA State Seal, "To the memory of the citizens of the State of Washington who lost their lives in the service of the United States during the World War 1917 – 1918",

    North face: "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend"

    West face: "Their sacrifice was to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world"

    South face: "They fought to safeguard and transmit to posterity the principles of justice, freedom, and democracy."

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    The Legislative Building

    by joiwatani Updated Oct 27, 2011

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    This is where the laws of the State of Washington are presented for approval by the State Representatives.

    In the State of Washington, there are two Senators representing the state: (2011) Senator Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell.

    The House has 8 representatives .

    There are tours here and you can sign up for it. You can tour the State Capitol, Legislative Building, Governor's Mansion and listen to history of the building.

    Here's a glimpse from the website of the Washington Capitol website tour:

    The Legislative Building is the crowning piece of the Washington State Capitol Campus and is home to the Washington State Legislature and the offices of the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, and State Treasurer. Completed in 1928, it boasts one of the tallest free standing masonry domes in the world and houses the largest chandelier ever made by the Tiffany Lighting Company. The tour of the Legislative Building includes the North Foyer, Rotunda, State Reception Room, and Legislative Galleries. This tour is targeted to all groups and last approximately one hour.

    Governor’s Mansion Tour

    The oldest standing building on the Capitol Campus, the red-brick Georgian style Executive Mansion has been home to Washington’s Governors since 1910. Fully restored and furnished with many antiques from the American Federal period, the mansion is open for public tours on most Wednesdays by reservation. Morning and afternoon tours are available, but group size is limited to 25. This tour is available for 4th grade and up.

    Please note: School group tours of the mansion are limited to a 15 minute walk-thru if part of a Civic Education or Legislative Process Tour.

    Civic Education Tour, available to groups of 10 or more (Available from September-June only)

    This tour will focus on the three branches of government and includes information on the Legislative Building’s function, operation, symbolism and history. Also included in this tour is a visit to the Temple of Justice where your class will participate in a mock court hearing. This tour may include visits to the offices of the elected officials, Capitol Rotunda, State Reception Room, and Legislative Galleries of the House and Senate. The Civic Education Tour is three hours (including a lunch period) and is targeted to Elementary and Middle School Students.

    Legislative Process Tour, available to groups of 10 or more (Available from September-June only)

    This tour is an in-depth look at the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branch of Washington State Government. This tour can be customized in many ways, but the standard process tour includes a one hour class on the legislative process, hosted by the Legislative Information Center, and tour visits to legislative process locations. Additionally, your group may wish to participate in a mock court hearing in the Temple of Justice. This tour is three hours (includes a lunch period) and is specifically targeted to High School and Adult Groups

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    Priest Point Park: preserved woodlands by water

    by glabah Updated Jul 24, 2011

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    Located just north and east of downtown Olympia, Priest Point Park was set aside around 1904, and was the first land purchased for the construction of a city park. Prior to this, the park was owned by logging interests, and there are still some very old and very large tree stumps in the area that testify to the logging of the land over 100 years ago.

    Today, much of the park is preserved second growth forest, and as such is the home of a fair amount of wildlife. As the park has a fair amount of shore line, it is also possible to see wildlife out in the water as well. For example, on a visit to this park on July 21, 2011 there was a harbour seal only about 100 feet out in the water from one of the viewpoints, eating a huge fish - almost as large as he was. He was having to dive from time to time in order to protect his prize catch from the various gulls that were determined to obtain pieces of fish with little effort of their own.

    Also present in the park during that visit was an osprey nest with one young bird that appeared to be nearly ready to fledge from the nest, plus two adults hunting for fish. There was also a bald eagle attempting to hide in one of the trees, though the local crow population was not tolerating his presence at all.

    The park has a number of trails through it, many of which have short steep uphill and downhill sections. One of the trails is closed due to blow down from trees. Unfortunately, the park does not appear to have a good map of the complete trail system, but instead the maps of the trails are located at various points on the trail system, and feature only a detailed view of the trails in that local section of the park.

    There are several picnic shelters throughout the park, and these are set up similar to camp sites with a few dedicated parking places for them, but overnight camping is not allowed in the park. The shelters are really nice structures that include food preparation areas, nearby water faucets, and electrical outlets. Restrooms are close to some shelters and farther away from others.

    A huge new playground has been recently opened near an open grass area just west of East Bay Drive Northeast. There is also a small rose garden. Information about the local ecosystem and area history are scattered through the park along the various trails.

    Getting to and into the park by private automobile is fairly easy, and fairly elegant as a light weight bridge has been built over East Bay Drive. This allows those entering and exiting the park to do so only by making right turns from and to this divided road, and is a huge help during busy traffic periods as there is no way to make a left turn onto this busy road, nor is it desirable to do so. From the north or south as you approach the park there is a fairly good sized entrance sign where you turn right. If you exit going back the way you came, you drive across the bridge and turn right onto East Bay Drive. There are a number of signs pointing the way to the park once you get downtown. While East Bay Drive is not extremely pleasant to walk next to due to the high traffic volume, the speeds are not extremely high (or at least shouldn't be due to a 30 mph speed limit) and there are sidewalks beside it from downtown Olympia all the way to the park - which is slightly over 1.5 miles (2.5 km). The nearest bus service to the park is bus route 21 at Bethel Street and 26th Avenue, which is east of the park some distance.

    Priest Point was named after late 1840s Roman Catholic missions in the area, primarily aimed at ministering to local First Nations tribes. With the First Nations population being consolidated at reservations on an island northwest of Olympia in the 1850s and the establishment of urban areas by white settlers, the mission had no reason to exist at this point and the land was sold to logging interests.

    Priest Point Park entrance on Right: note Big Sign Park Bench (left) and Much of Priest Point Park is in Deep Forest Very Good Picnic Shelters in Priest Point Park Playground under Works in Priest Point Point Park
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    Washington State Capitol

    by Johnscarroll Updated Apr 4, 2011

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    The Capitol (legislative) building just reopened after a post-earthquake retrofit. It looks better than ever. The capitol dome is one of the largest masonary domes in the world. It's entirely constructed of stone without metal support.

    Guided tours are offered for free seven days a week between 10am and 3pm. The tour guides range from exciting and thorough to boring and droning. No matter what kind you get, the narration will be full of facts and trivia about Washington State and its government. Asking questions can help perk up a boring tour. There is symbology throughout the building, from the carpets to the crown molding.

    Park in the visitor parking lot along Capitol Way. While there, drop into the visitor's center and pick up a map of the memorials and art displays that are scattered around the capitol campus. The main fountain on campus is a replica of the Tivoli Gardens fountain in Denmark.

    You can also view the Temple of Justice building if the state supreme court is not in session. The library and courtroom are really quite beautiful. Other buildings are for public business only.

    The legislative session is brief: generally running from February to May or June depending on the year. You can view sessions of the house and senate during floor debates.

    Washington's State Capitol
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