During the 1880s, Tacoma was enjoying a prosperous age, with the development of the Weyerhaeuser mill and as the original terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Nicknamed the...
Length: About two miles.
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Level of difficulty: Flat-to-gentle, packed gravel trails and paved paths.
Setting: During the 1880s, Tacoma was enjoying a prosperous age, with the development of the Weyerhaeuser mill and as the original terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Nicknamed the “City of Destiny,” its elegant inhabitants needed an elegant place to walk. Charles B. Wright donated the land for his namesake park in 1886, and William W. Seymour gave money to finance a conservatory on the grounds, which was built in 1908. Trees from four continents were brought to the park to create an arboretum (ask at the gift shop for a map identifying almost 700 trees). The parks department is working with the community to improve the park and expand the conservatory.
Highlights: The 3,600-square-foot “Crystal Palace,” whose mission is to promote the connection between people and the natural world, is one of only three historic Victorian glass-domed conservatories remaining on the West Coast (along with Seattle’s Volunteer Park and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park). The building recently underwent eight months of extensive renovation, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Visit the conservatory during the holidays to view the December displays of poinsettias, paper whites and amaryllis (exhibits change monthly). A steamy little jungle of exotic fruit trees, rhododendrons and orchids (over 500 plant species) flourishes beneath the 3,500 panes of glass that make up the building’s two wings and 12-sided dome.
Facilities: Playground, gift shop and seasonal restrooms. The conservatory is open Tuesday through Sunday (and Monday holidays) from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (closed Christmas and New Year’s Day). Free admission (donations accepted).
Restrictions: Leash and scoop laws in effect.
Directions: From Interstate 5 in Tacoma, take Highway 16 west toward Gig Harbor/Bremerton. Merge immediately into the right-hand lane and take the first exit onto Sprague Avenue. In 1.5 miles, turn right on South Sixth Avenue, then in a mile, turn left on South “I” or “G” Street. Park on the street.
Bus: Take Sound Transit to Tacoma, and transfer to a selection of Pierce Transit routes. Information: Sound Transit (206-398-5000, 800-201-4900 or www.soundtransit.org) or Pierce Transit (253-581-8000, 800-562-8109 or www.piercetransit.org).
Park information: 253-591-5330 (conservatory), 253-305-1000 (park) or www.metroparkstacoma.org/parks
Cathy McDonald is coauthor with Stephen Whitney of “Nature Walks In and Around Seattle” (The Mountaineers, 1997).