Climbing one of the sail mounds at Dune Peninsula is like ascending a pyramid.
At the top, you can see Dash Point and Vashon Island across the water; to the east, the buildings of Tacoma with Mt. Rainier looming behind it all.
On September 7, 2019, Dune Peninsula will celebrate its completion with free family activities and a concert. Sure to become a local icon, this beautiful park represents rebirth from a dark past.
How the Peninsula Came to Be: Frank Herbert’s Wasteland
Imagine ash raining down from the sky and the smoky smell of sulfur dioxide filling the air. For nearly a century, this was a reality for the citizens living near what is now Point Ruston and Dune Peninsula. In fact, that reality inspired the wasteland described in the science-fiction novel Dune, the namesake for the peninsula.
Beginning in 1890, the bluff above Point Ruston was occupied by an ore-processing plant operated by the American Smelting and Refining Company (ASARCO). The plant refined mostly copper.
In the 1940s, ASARCO began dumping molten slag—the leftovers of the refining process — into Commencement Bay. The lava-like material built up over decades and extended farther and farther into the bay, creating a 23-acre peninsula. This new landform was the foundation for Point Ruston and Dune Peninsula.
Over its lifespan, the ASARCO plant created incredible amounts of pollution. Toxic chemicals like arsenic and lead are estimated to have settled over more than 1,000 square miles of the Puget Sound Basin. Because of this kind of ecological devastation, in the 1950s, Tacoma was considered one of the most polluted cities in the United States.
The ASARCO plant finally closed in 1985, and the area was declared a Superfund site. In 1993, the smelter stack, once the tallest in the world, was reduced to rubble as tens of thousands of people watched.
Now all that remains of the ASARCO plant is the strange landform it left behind.
The Vision: Restoring the ASARCO Site
The reclamation of the slag peninsula began in 2015. Over 20,000 truckloads of contaminated soil were removed from the site. The remaining 400,000 cubic yards were sealed in with a geotextile cap.
New topsoil formed the base for the new park, and the shoreline was armored with rock. The video below features some of the construction work done on Dune Peninsula and the resulting architecture.
In an interview with Tacoma Weekly, Metro Parks Board Commissioner Erik Hanberg compared this process to the plot in the novel Dune: “The characters in the novel have a goal to ‘terraform’ their planet back to its inhabitable origins. That’s what we’ve done here [with Dune Peninsula]. We have terraformed a polluted wasteland into a beautiful environment for all to enjoy.”
Exploring Dune Peninsula
Three sail mounds rise above the new park. Built from interlocking quarry rock, waist-high concrete steps climb up the face of each mound, and long gravel paths lead down the backsides. The steep slopes of these monoliths are flush with wildflowers.
Project Manager Roger Stanton explained that the sail mounds reflect the peninsula’s past. “You can see that there was an artful installation of these mound faces,” he explained at a community meeting in 2018. “And the whole point is, this land is built out of slag rock. And so we wanted it to almost look like the rock was captured on the end of these mounds.”
Concrete paths wind around the peninsula, offering a long path for bikes and joggers. Stretches of lawn await future community events.
In the distance, the Wilson Way Bridge towers above the marina and connects the upper portion of Point Defiance Park to the Frank Herbert Trail, which leads directly to Dune Peninsula. Those seeking access to the marina can walk down five flights of stairs—or use the slides at each level.
Rocking the Peninsula
The gray-blue rock that makes up the main component of the mounds was locally sourced in Orting, Washington, and ethically mined at Washington Rock Quarries. Washington Rock provided over 50,000 tons of rock products for the project—that’s 200 million pounds.
Nearly 30,000 tons of quarry spalls—large pieces of rock—were used to create a kind of armor around the shoreline of the peninsula. The same rock was purposefully used in the sail mounds.
“We wanted people to see the mounds as an extension of the peninsula itself, made of the same materials, hiding the same mysteries,” explained Clayton Beaudoin, principal for landscape architect SiteWorkshop.
Washington Rock’s materials were used in many other areas. Fish rock—a special mix of river rock—was used to created a buffer zone on the northeast side of the peninsula where fish can thrive. Pea gravel was used around plantings.
Wherever you look, these rock materials represent a departure from the past and a striving toward a future where human innovation respects nature.
Cleanup Efforts Continue
Even with the transformation of Point Ruston and Dune Peninsula, efforts to remediate the impact of the ASARCO plant are not over. In 2009, Washington State launched a program to replace the contaminated soil of homes near the ASARCO plant. Over 300 homes have had their soil replaced.
Washington Rock has provided thousands of tons of topsoil for this remediation effort and will continue supporting this important cause until the work is finished.
Visit our Destination Point Defiance page for more information about the materials Washington Rock provided to Dune Peninsula. Washington Rock is located in the Puget Sound region of Washington State.
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