Explore urban wilderness in parks and lakeside trails near the Washington state capital of Olympia.
OLYMPIA — Tour a century-old tugboat docked at a wharf where steamships called in the 1800s.
Jog or walk around a lake where a switchback trail leads to the Washington State Capitol perched on a bluff above Puget Sound.
Bike along a paved path that wends through wetlands to an abandoned brewery.
After grazing through the Olympia Farmers Market on a recent Saturday, my husband, Tom, and I felt the need to walk off some calories.
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We started at Percival Landing, a city park and marina near the market at Budd Inlet, the southernmost tip of the Sound. Several hours later, after exploring a series of connecting paths linking the marina with a trio of lakeside parks, we came away with a new appreciation for the urban wilderness surrounding our state Capitol.
The snow-capped Olympic Mountains looked surreal in the afternoon light. The air smelled of saltwater and broiled oysters. Mallards skimmed the glassy surface of Capitol Lake, where people jogged, skipped, played guitar and pushed strollers on paved and gravel paths.
Pity the poor state workers stuck in their offices.
Percival Landing Park
Named for the original dock built by Sam Percival in 1860, Percival Landing is a marina and park with picnic areas and a mile-long waterfront boardwalk, stretching from Thurston Avenue, near the Farmers Market, to the Fourth Avenue bridge in downtown Olympia.
Lined with outdoor sculpture, waterside cafes and restaurants, the boardwalk and adjoining park is downtown Olympia’s back door, a place to relax minus noise or traffic. Phase 1 of a major renovation of the park was completed in August 2011.
Working and retired tugboats will gather at the landing Aug. 31-Sept. 2 for the annual Olympia Harbor Days. In the meantime, volunteers for the Sand Man Foundation (www.tugsandman.org) offer free tours of the Sand Man Tug, built in 1910 and used to push barges filled with oysters to a processing plant on the wharf, now home to the Oyster House Restaurant at 320 Fourth Ave. W. See http://olympiawa.gov/community/parks.
Marsh, lake or estuary?
Architects working on a plan for the State Capitol campus in 1911 envisioned Capitol Lake, a 260-acre man-made lake adjacent to Heritage Park, as a reflecting pool for the Capitol.
Built in 1951 by damming the Deschutes River estuary (the area where fresh water from the river mixed with saltwater from the Sound), the lake is becoming a marsh filled with sediment flowing down from the river, threatening its ecosystem, including large numbers of birds, fish and bats.
Studies on what to do include proposals to leave things as they are, dredge the lake or remove the dam and restore all or part of the area as an estuary.
With plans on hold due to state budget cuts, nothing will happen soon. Meanwhile, runners, dog-walkers and couples pushing strollers use paved and gravel paths to make the 1.5-mile loop below the Capitol. The half-mile switchback Heritage Park Trail leads to the top where you can pop into the legislative building for free tours offered daily, including weekends. See www.ga.wa.gov/Visitor/Parks/HeritageParkTrails.pdf
Best for picnicking is this grassy pocket park at the southwestern corner of Capitol Lake’s north basin. It earned its name after Olympia hosted the U.S. time trials in 1984 for the first women’s Olympic marathon.
A footbridge bisects the lake’s north and middle basins, connecting to walking paths on the other side. There’s parking and restrooms, which make Marathon Park a good place to start or end a lakeside walk. See www.ga.wa.gov/Visitor/Parks/MarathonPark.htm.
From Marathon Park, it’s a one-mile walk to Interpretive Park on a path skirting the Deschutes Parkway. From there, a paved pedestrian and biking trail weaves along the lake, through wetlands and under Interstate 5 to Tumwater Falls Park on the Deschutes River, the site of the abandoned Tumwater brewery.
The brewery once marketed its Olympia Beer with the slogan, “It’s the Water,” touting the purity of the area’s artesian wells.
Watch for markers identifying native plants such as creeping Oregon grape, black gooseberry and red-flowering currant.
Wooden piers used before the lake was closed to fishing and swimming are good vantage points from which to photograph the Capitol dome and Olympic Mountains. See www.ga.wa.gov/Visitor/Parks/DeschutesPkwy.htm.
Carol Pucci: firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @carolpucci.