Fort Worden: Ruins of the Past Fortress
Be Very Careful when Exploring Fort Worden as the abandoned gun battery structures are old, haven't been maintained in working order since the 1950s, and have few hand rails and can therefore be hazards. A fall from any of these structures will likely be fatal as the bottom of the fall is usually a concrete walkway.
Construction of the fortifications at Fort Worden started in 1897, and the fort remained in operation into the 1950s. Weapons and equipment were removed from the facility upon its decomissioning, and a number of buildings were demolished - at one time there were over 400 structures of various types at the fort, and today only a fraction of those remain.
However, the huge concrete foundations for the gun batteries and a number of other pieces of history here were simply too large to demolish, and were simply left to decay on their own under natural processes.
Today, it is possible to explore all of these old structures, but in the future I would expect that access to them will slowly be limited by safety concerns and their ever increasing fragile state.
The largest concentration of old fortress remains are on top of the highest hill inside the park. This is known as Artillary Hill, and contains a very wide assortment of fortifications, as well as the artwork known as Memory's Vault. However, there is a second concentration of fortress ruins facing northward at the bottom of the hill, on the north side of the "lower" campground. Another small fortification was on the east side of the barracks area, near where the structure known as "Alexander's Castle" is.
To get to the old fortifications it is necessary to walk from the base of the hill up any one of several trails or service roads (closed to normal vehicle traffic) from the main compound near the old barracks to the top of the hill. Once at the top of the hill, it is fairly easy to find the ruins as the entire hill top is filled with them, and there are signs that guide you to the various gun batteries.
Your best bet in finding your way around is to obtain a park map, as many of the roads inside the park are not named, and thus giving directions to those unfamilar with the park is a bit difficult.
Two museums exist at Fort Worden State Park to help interpet the old fortress and its operations:
+ Commanding Officer's Quarters Museum
+ Coast Artillary Museum
- Historical Travel
- Hiking and Walking
Coast Artillery Museum (Fort Worden)
This is one of the several museums I was unable to explore yet on my travels to Fort Worden. It preserves some of the remaining military hardware from the old fortifications dating from the state park's former use as the protective cover for Port Townsend and the entrance to Puget Sound.
It is apparently currently being operated by the Centrum arts organization, which is most likely why I was unable to locate it on the fort ground.
Or, at least, its web site is being hosted by Centrum.
"The museum is open weekends in May from noon to 4 p.m., and daily Memorial Day through Labor Day from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m." So, the museum wasn't even open during any of my visits to Fort Worden anyway - based on the hours and months of operation.
Fort Worden Beaches
While the beaches at Fort Worden State Park are not large or very sandy affairs, they do at least offer some exposure to the salt water and ocean-liike climate offered by the Straight of Juan de Fuca.
However, the wind comes right out of the Pacific Ocean and right down the Straight with little to block it, so that the north side of Fort Worden State Park does get pretty harsh winds sometimes. Chetzemoka Park and its beach are closer to downtown Port Townsend and are more sheltered from the wind.
However, the views from the beaches at Fort Worden run in all different directions, especially close to Point Wilson, where obstructions from the land are less. Also, near the "lower" campground near the Marine Science Center you will find one or two picnic tables near the beach with grilling stands (see main photo). As best as I can tell these are available for day use rather than being reserved for those camped at the campground (they have their own grilling stands and picnic tables!).
The beaches tend to be fairly narrow, so be careful not to get yourself stuck out near the water with water rushing in - though the tidal fluctuation here isn't anywhere near as large as it is in the Tacoma or Nisqually area.
There are trails leading to the beaches in several places, and please use those rather than making your own trail. The beach grass is very sensitive, and provides vital nesting habitat for some bird species that have become rare due to degradig beach habitat for them. If you are staying in the gues houses by the Commanding Officer's Museum, there is a staircase down to the beach (see photo 3) from the area from the bluff just east of the Commanding Officer's Museum.
Fort Worden Cemetary
At one time this small cemetary was a quiet back corner of Fort Worden, but today suburban development has put some reasonably busy streets, plus a paved local road, right by the cemetary.
As originally intended, the cemetary was set aside for those who died while fulfilling their service at Fort Worden, plus their immediate families. There are 360 plots, and the first burial was Private Elisha Webb in June of 1902.
Today the cemetary includes veterans from the Spanish-American war up through Vientam, and from all branches of the service. The headstones also include dealths of children and infants, and two unknown people.
Today, every Memorial Day, citizens of Port Townsend make sure that every grave marker bears a flag.
As best as I can tell, the gates to the cemetary are always locked, except for special events (such as Memorial Day).
The interpretive sign giving local history of the cemetary is located on the north side of the cemetary, along Spruce Street but on the opposite side from W street.
How to Get Here: There are trails that lead from the fort to the cemetary, but they are rather obscure. I got here simply by following the trails and my sense of direction, but that is somewhat hard to describe. There is a paved service road that leads from the main Fort grounds to the cemetary, and that makes it somewhat easier, especially if you obtain a map of the park from the information center. The cemetary is located at the intersection of W and Spruce Streets, but neither of them have any parking on them - they are narrow suburban sprawl type streets that don't allow for sidewalks either. However, bus route #2 does serve a stop right next to the cemetary, and that may be your easiest way to find it.
There are a number of web sites that discuss the cemetary and those buried here, but none appears to be operated by the official owners, which today appears to be Washington State Parks.
- Historical Travel
Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park
Located behind a number of decidedly non-natural suburban businesses and suburban sprawl, this park preserves a small piece of natural wetlands for bird life. The park also includes several walking trails (nothing very extensive) and picnic tables and benches. There is a small picnic shelter that, when I visited, didn't have any picnic tables inside it.
The name of the park is based on the early Native American name for the area around Port Townsend, Kahtai. Although there were no permanent settlements here, there were temporary settlements used by trading and fishing parties. Pole structures with long poles pointed skyward were noted by Captain George Vancouver in 1792, but it is unknown what they were used for.
The lagoon was originally much larger, and due to the amount of wildlife here was proposed as a National Wildlife Refuge in the 1930s. However, incorporation into the national wildlife refuge system never happened. In the 1960s dredgings from a nearby marina reduced the size of the lagoon to approximately half of its previous size.
Today, what remains is a city park, and preserved mostly as wildlife habitat. The total length of trails in the park are approximately 3/4 of a mile (1 km) in length, so this is far from an extensive trail network. However, it is possible to get reasonably far into the park and the city noise from the nearby highway and parking lots are somewhat blocked by bushes and trees.
There is a restroom facility, but it is closed in the winter and replaced with a portable toilet.
The usual suspects here are Great Blue Heron, mallards and widgeons, but I also heard a kingfisher on the edge of the water while I was here. Several ruddy ducks and male bufflehead were out away from shore and diving for food as well.
How to Get Here: The parking lot is located in an area hidden behind a McDonald's Restaurant. From Sims Way / Highway 20, turn north onto Haines Place, and turn right onto 12 Street. The parking lot is the next possible left turn. The entrance is very close to the main park and ride and bus transfer facility for Port Townsend, which is served by most bus routes in the Jefferson Transit system.
Memory's Vault (Fort Worden State Park)
One of the items at the summit of Artillary Hill is a work of art called "Memory's Vault" with sculpture by Richard Turner and poetry by Sam Hamill. Near the center of this sculpture is a concrete vault that used to be the storage vault for the engineering drawings used in the construction of Fort Warden. It and the battered remains of a small steam locomotive are the only substantial piece that survive from the era of construction of the fortifications at Port Townsend.
At one time, surrounding the vault was an entire barracks for the US Army Corps of Engineers, but there is virtually no trace of this structure today, other than the vault.
The surrounding sculptures, artwork and poetry were completed in 1988 as a unique way of memorializing a piece of the state's history, and in some ways was an ancestor of some of the more recent works, particularly those produced some 15 years later for the 200th anniversary of the Corps of Discovery / Lewis & Clark Expedition.
I will not try to explain the concrete chair, the entry gate structure, or the pavillion structure. They serve as haunting memorials that appear as ruins of a throne room or temple of some sort, in more modern construction methods.
The main entry side of the sculpture area has a series of concrete posts with haunting poems written on them, most of which are reminders of our own temporary nature here on earth. I will quote an excerpt from one of the poems here as an example:
If it fills me with longing,
it is only because we are wind and smoke,
flower and bee,
it is only because
we are like the rain, falling,
falling through our own most secret being,
through a world of not-knowing.
A note at the bottom of one of the introduction pillar notes:
Washington State Arts Commission
In Partnership with
Washington State Department of Corrections
State Parks and Recreation Commission
Funding was provided through
Art in Public Places Program
Washington State Arts Commission
Built by Fabricatioin Specialties
with assistance from inmates of the
Clallam Bay Corrections Center
Getting Here: There is a paved road that goes to the top of Artillery Hill. As you get to the top of the hill, you will see a concrete marker noting the entrance to the Memory's Vault area. There is a gate at the bottom of the hill which marks the road as off-limits to vehicles, so no matter if you arrive at the State Park by bus, bike, walking or driving, from here you must walk up the hill.
The web site below is for the state park.
- Historical Travel
- Arts and Culture
North Beach Park
This small park has restroom facilities (which are closed during the winter season and replaced with a portable toilet) several picnic tables including a small shelter, and of course as the name implies access to the beach on the north side of the Quimper Peninsula.
This is a reasonably popular park for its size, but it should be understood that the Straight of Juan de Fuca, onto which this beach faces, is a fairly wild body of water, and there isn't much shelter from the severe wind that blows right up the straight from the Pacific Ocean.
Even so, it is a popular location, and on a clear day you can sort of see the Olympic Mountains (there is a much better view from atop the slight hillside in the area known as Chinese Gardens, which is a very short walk to the east). You can also see across the water to a very distant Vancouver Island, and off in the distance there are other islands of the Straight.
However, clear days are not extremely common here, though the area does lie in a somewhat of a rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains it isn't as severely sheltered as some of the areas nearby.
The park is operated by Jefferson County, though finding information on their parks on their web site can be a bit of a tangle.
- Family Travel
In the far northwestern corner of Fort Warden State Park there is a wetlands area set aside as a home for wildlife. There are two trails through the area, and one of them connects Fort Warden State Park with the tiny North Beach County Park.
The trails are mostly dirt surrounded by tall grass, so expect to get wet.
Bird life here may include small song birds in the forest edge all the way up to herons in the water below, so keep your eyes scanning over both areas.
In addition to the bird life and quiet forest land, the area offers a very clear and unobstructed view of the Olympic Mountains.
The name Chinese Gardens originates from the very small farming efforts undertaken by Chinese Immigrants to the area, but there is no trace left of these gardens today. The former small farms have surrendered to suburban development.
- National/State Park
If you happen to be at the Port Townsend Ferry terminal and find that you have a bit of a wait, there is a tiny park on the northwest side of the entry to the ferry terminal. However, it is a very small park, and for the most part it would be very easy to overlook this as just part of the property of the US Bank Building on the other side of the park from the ferry terminal.
This small park was obviously the brainchild of someone involved with the Rotary Club, and features a few picnic tables and a central plaza arranged around a concrete walkway in the form of the familiar Rotary Club gear.
There are also a couple of picnic tables that are on the edge of the hill that slopes steeply down to the water, but view of the water is very limited from here due to the ferry terminal and the bank building next door.
However, one of the reasons why it is so easy to overlook the park is because of the thick brush that completely surrounds the park. This is a huge help in keeping the noise from the surrounding city and busy roads out of the park, and therefore if it is a nice day and you don't want to wait indoors in the ferry terminal, you may find this little park is a far more suitable location to wait out your ferry arrival.
If you look at photo 3, you will notice that the only thing identifying this as a public park is the small sign that you can see directly above the hood of the car near the center of the photo.
The web site below is the official City of Port Townsend city parks page, but does not have any information about this particular park.
- Budget Travel
Port Townsend Boiler Room
This little shop on Water Avenue is very hard to classify. It is a non-profit dedicated to youth, and is alcohol free. This allows it to be an all-ages venue for artwork and theatre, while it also maintains a soup kitchen and at $1 a cup it is one of the cheapest cups of coffee you will find in western Washington.
Events here include open microphone, poetry, music and art related material.
The facility also is the home of a youth jobs program, among other things.
Obviously this is not your typical tourist attraction, but if you are in Port Townsend and are having a bit of trouble deciding what to do, it might be worthwhile taking a look at the events calendar here to see if they have anything interesting going on.
It should be noted, however, that the Boiler Room is closed on Mondays.
Haller Fountain / Taylor Street Staircase
Providing a convenient connection between the houses on the top of the bluff above and the downtown area of Port Townsend, this attractive staircase, with a fountain at its base, also provides good views out into the waterway.
The Haller Fountain was originally installed in 1906 by Theodore Haller as a memorial to his deceased father and brother. After the dedication, Mr. Haller read a poem about the Greek sea nymph Galatea, and so today the fountain is still called by that name. Unfortunately, the fountain fell on hard times as it was used for assorted purposes it was never intended for, including performing trout shows and planted as a flower bed.
Damaged beyond reasonable repair, the fountain was re-cast in 1992 and now Galatea once again watches over the city surrounded on three sides by water.
About 1/4 of the way down the staircase from the top of the hill there is a flagpole, and a sign that appears to have been prepared to contain some sort of city information or memorial information, but was blank upon my visit.
Port Townsend Skate Park
Located at the former site of a rather unattractive parking lot on the northeast side of Monroe Street between Washington and Jefferson Streets, the Port Townsend Skate Park has now become a fairly popular place for kids to hang out.
The park is located very close to one of Jefferson Transit's bus stops which is served by almost all bus routes.
- Family Travel
Located on the northeast residential side of Port Townsend, this small park offers flower beds, picnic areas, and a view of the transition between the Straight of Juan de Fucca and Puget Sound and Hood Canal.
There is some playground equipment in the park, and there is a relaxing small stream that flows through the park that drains the surrounding hillside.
The park features a number of grand trees, and while they are not the largest trees in the Pacific Northwest nor the Olympic Peninsula they are still fairly good sized for being in a developed city park.
The park is positioned on a hillside next to the waters of the Straight of Juan de Fucca, and there is a trail in the far eastern corner of the park that leads down to the beach.
I have given the Beach at Chetzemoka Park a separate tip, as it does extend along the shore, and in this area the beach is public land (though the bluff above the beach is private land).
- Family Travel
Follow Taylor Street from the top of top of the bluff overlooking downtown Port Townsend all the way up the hill, and at the very peak of that hill you will find Sather Park.
There isn't a huge amount in this park that would be of interest to most people. A small portion of the park is devoted to an off-leash dog area, while the rest of the park is an attempt to create preserved forest, but in many places appears to have been taken over by non-native invasive plant species. Even so, there appear to be several different bird species that call this park home, and it also appears to be a popular place for the deer that wander around Port Townsend on a regular basis.
The roads surrounding the park offer some views, but nothing extremely spectacular.
- Travel with Pets
Union Warf Observation Platform
After an old warf on the south side of Port Townsend collapsed, it has now been rebuilt and converted to an observation platform, with views of both the surrounding bay and the city. There is an interpretive sign or two with some historic photos, that show what remains of the old Port Townsend (and there are a fair number of buildings that remain) and the significance of those buildings.
If you are really lucky, you might see some sea otters here, as I did.
The covered deck and multiple level platforms make this a possibility of a picnic spot or possible use for a number of other uses, though the panoramic views of downtown Port Townsend are the primary goals here.
While there are several agencies involved, the primary point of contact seems to be the Port Townsend City Parks system, and their web site is below.
To Get Here: main road through main part of town is Water Street. Turn southeast towards water at Taylor Street and keep going towards the water.
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