Walkers, runners and other visitors to the parks along Ruston Way may have noticed construction fencing popping up around Dickman Mill Park as Metro Parks prepares for a major update that will honor Tacoma’s heritage as the “Lumber Capital of the World.”
Thanks to a $2.9 million gift from Cambia Health Solutions, a decades-long community vision will become reality in 2021 as the park is updated with a plaza housing the historic Dickman Mill head saw. The site will also feature artist Mary Coss’s Ghost Log, a massive 44’ Corten steel sculpture depicting the story of the land on which the park sits. A pedestrian pier and interpretive signage will be part of the site’s makeover.
“Metro Parks has envisioned an expansion of this park since the 1990s when we first transformed the property into a public park,” said Metro Parks Board President Tim Reid. “We’ve always wanted to restore the head saw and create a space that shares our waterfront history, but we lacked the resources to bring the concept to life.”
That changed in 2017. As the parent company of Regence BlueShield, Cambia Health Solutions was celebrating its 100-year anniversary and wanted to commemorate its centennial with a gift to the community where it got its start. It was here on Tacoma’s waterfront the company’s history took root during the glory days of Tacoma’s lumber industry.
“We were founded in 1917 by Tacoma timber workers who pooled a small percentage of their weekly wages to provide a safety net in case of sickness and injury,” Mark Ganz, president and CEO of Cambia Health Solutions, explained when sharing the company’s decision for its generous gift to the Dickman Mill project.
As the company explored opportunities to memorialize its 100-year anniversary, the park’s master plan checked off all the boxes. This project honors Cambia’s historic roots in a space designed for families and neighbors to come together.
The anchoring focal point of the project will be the restoration of the Dickman Mill head saw. The saw was the largest of its kind and was a mechanical marvel manufactured by Sumner Iron Works in Everett and installed in 1923. It was rendered obsolete in the latter half of the 20th century with modernization of the logging industry. The head saw is listed on state and local registers of historic places and artifacts.
The 9-acre Dickman mill, which closed in 1977, was the last operating sawmill on the Ruston Way waterfront. The head saw, which stood 34 feet high during its operations, has been lying in pieces in Point Defiance Park’s maintenance yard awaiting an opportunity like this. It will be transported next week to Spokane where Northwest Steel Fab, Inc. will restore the saw and prepare it for public display at its original home on Tacoma’s waterfront.
Onsite construction activities move into full swing on December 14 at nightfall when extreme low tides will provide access for beach remediation. This work will include retrieving bricks from the mill’s burner that will be repurposed and incorporated into the site design improvements.
The expanded park is anticipated to open mid-summer 2021.
“Cambia’s generous gift is enabling us to share the heritage and history of Tacoma’s waterfront at Dickman Mill Park,” said Park Board President Tim Reid. “We want to express our sincerest thanks to CEO Mark Ganz for sharing our vision. We’re excited that the work is getting underway before he retires later this month.”
For more information and to get project updates visit metroparkstacoma.org/dickman-mill.