Priest Point Park
East Bay Drive
Submitted by: Julie McQuary
A century-old, forested waterfront that attracts wildlife, kids, grannies, newlyweds, runners, hikers, bikers, birders and teenage smoochers.
300 acres of magnificent mature forest on Budd Bay at the southern end of the Puget Sound. A popular and historic city park with shelters, picnic sites, scenic overlooks and the 3-1/2 mile Ellis Cove trail that leads around the estuary past an Osprey nest through the forest to the beach. What goes on here? There's bay, beach, forest, trails, gardens, picnic shelters and sites, scenic views, wildlife, kids, grannies, newlyweds, runners, hikers, bikers, birders and teenage smoochers.
What Makes Priest Point Park a Great Place?
East Bay Drive, a scenic boulevard, passes through the center of the park providing vehicular, bike and pedestrian acess. Most of the park is only accessible on foot via the park trail system. Due to the steep ravines and wetlands, the trail segments include staircases and boardwalks. The forested hills and undeveloped beach provide a beautiful backdrop for the rest of the city. As seen from the water or the west side of the city and shore, it is the only remaining large forest on the bay and is crowned by snowcapped Mt. Rainier in the distance. From the beach are panoramic views to downtown, the state capitol and the snowcapped Olympic Mountains.
The first time I walked the Ellis Cove Trail, the Nisqually Indians were having a drumming ceremony, so as I walked under the towering trees in a classic Pacific Northwest rain, I could hear the ancient drumming sounds. The first Saturday in August each year, the Olympia Storytellers light torches and present an evening of scary stories to a large enchanted crowd as the wind blows off the water, lights twinkle and imaginations swirl. The park feels protected by god. It feels ancient and timeless. Most visitors know about the ancient Indian fishing villages, 19th century Catholic Mission and ancient ritual of salmon returning up stream each fall to spawn. For those who are new, interpretive signs help with the sense of place. It is very well maintained and clean.
From the soaring swings to the memorial garden to the deep woods and natural beaches, the park ranks as the city's favorite. Life Magazine featured an article with a photo of a man standing inside one of the ancient hollow trees. He found his strength and peace in the park. The rose garden is the most popular outdoor wedding venue in the city. The shelters are fully booked during the best weather months for family reunions and other events. Stream Team Summer Camps are at capacity and mix environmental awareness and education with stewardship activities. Volunteers in the Park (VIP)improve trails and remove non-native plants. The relatively large, undeveloped forest areas in the park provides important wildlife habitat and solitude, a rare urban gift.
I heard someone say that they cannot imagine Olympia without Priest Point Park. They are synoymous. It is the guardian of much of the city's cultural and natural history. The park road system is a favorite drive to show off the best of the city to out of town visitors.
Olympia Parks, Arts and Recreation Department, 360-753-8380