Metro Parks Tacoma announcement
Tacoma, WA: After careful consideration, and following a recent geotechnical report confirming ongoing erosion and slope instability, Metro Parks Tacoma is closing the Outer Loop of Five Mile Drive in Point Defiance Park to all motorized traffic due to safety concerns.
The gates remain open 9am-2pm May 18-19, and closure is effective beginning Friday May 20.
Bicycles, pedestrians and other non-motorized traffic will still be permitted to use the road, which winds around the tip of Point Defiance. Walking trails and restrooms will stay open. The closure spans the 2.25-mile distance between the entry/exit to Owen Beach and Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, including the Vashon Island, Dalco Passage, Gig Harbor, Narrows and Bridge viewpoints.
Both Owen Beach and Fort Nisqually will remain accessible along the Inner Loop of the Drive, with Owen Beach reopening in June after renovations.
The closure comes after thoughtful review of a recent geotechnical slope assessment commissioned by Metro Parks, that confirms ongoing erosion and encroaching instability on the bluffs edging the road around the point. Climate change is a global phenomenon that is having a clearly visible effect on shorelines and slopes in the Pacific Northwest, as heavier rain and sea level rise accelerate erosion and landslides. Metro Parks has been monitoring climate change impacts for years and working to make parks more resilient, including recent renovations to prepare Owen Beach and Dickman Mill Park for sea level rise.
Upon receiving the report, Metro Parks immediately eliminated use of heavy vehicles, including Tacoma Public Schools buses serving students at the Science and Math Institute inside the park. Vehicles over 8,000 pounds were restricted from entering. The agency also initiated the process for a third-party peer review of the report to affirm its findings.
Five Mile Drive has always been a place of beauty and peace for the community, serving as a refuge for many during the pandemic and beyond. Metro Parks kept it open while waiting for the second report results to allow access times for motorized and non-motorized users, and to explore possibilities for establishing a bypass route. However, with the imminent increase in park traffic after Memorial Day, Metro Parks believes it is important to close the Outer Loop now to all motorized traffic to prevent further slope damage and threat to public safety.
The road remains open to non-motorized users, as well as the formal trails, which are fenced well back from the cliff edge. For their personal safety and to mitigate human impact to the bluffs, visitors are reminded to regard all posted signs and security fences, remain on marked and maintained trails and remember that like any natural area, Point Defiance Park is a dynamic landscape and users should respect the conditions of that environment.
While reducing vehicular use of the Outer Loop is a part of the community-guided 2015 Point Defiance Master Plan Update, Metro Parks also realizes how important forest access is for those with limited mobility. However, pulling the roadbed back from the edge as conceptualized in the 2015 plan has been determined to be inadvisable. Meeting current design and permit standards with the 150-foot setback recommended by the January geotechnical report would require removal of a large number of trees, along with significant understory habitat. This would be contrary to Metro Parks’ stewardship commitments and the park’s biodiversity corridor designation.
The agency is exploring possibilities for re-establishing a route for motorized access by using an existing service road on the peninsula. If viable, this 1.5-mile alternative – which is currently closed to the public and bisects the tip of the peninsula – is thought to require far less modification, impacting fewer trees and associated habitat. Staff are also assessing ways to develop an accessible connection between the new upper Owen Beach parking area and the non-motorized Outer Loop experience to provide access for those with limited mobility.
“Metro Parks’ decision to close the Five Mile Drive Outer Loop was not undertaken lightly,” said Joe Brady, deputy director of regional parks and attractions. “We know how deeply our community feels about this tranquil, forested space. But we also take public safety and environmental protection very seriously. This decision is a direct response to the acceleration of erosion caused by multiple forces of nature, and we must respect that inevitable power.”