Life happens at the park. Memories are formed, nature is explored, knees are skinned, picnics are enjoyed, and hours are idled away outdoors with the ones we love. Whether you prefer movement of leisure, sunshine or shade, a region’s parks are vital and precious.
In early September, Thurston County will add a new addition to their 25 currently operated parks. Featuring more than 150 acres with stunning waterfall views, Deschutes Falls Park will open to the public after a long, storied past. The park’s first owner was Charles Erb who established a homestead on the land in 1902. The second owners were Frank and Helen Noreen in the 1920s who first established the area as a private park.
The final owner, before it was purchased by Thurston County in 1992 was the William Pollman family who took over ownership in 1942. It was during these years that the owners charged cars a fee to set up camp or access the river. After the county’s purchase, there were big plans for the area, but development stalled over the years.
This delay was disheartening, says Parks Manager Kerry Hibdon. “Folks who grew up using that site have missed out on introducing the park to their children. It’s like the park skipped a generation.” But, the natural surroundings are so welcoming, the missed years won’t matter much. People will flock to it just the same. “It doesn’t need a whole lot of fixing. All I have to do to sell the site is kick the gate open,” he laughs. “It deserves—and needs—to be shared as a park.”
And Deschutes Falls Park is ready to be shared once again.
The grand opening is scheduled for Friday, September 1 at 10:00 a.m. Open to everyone, it will include a ribbon cutting and brief remarks before everyone is invited to hike from the upper trail at the edge of the parking lot downhill to the viewpoint areas. All three Thurston County Commissioners will be there as will invited members of the Nisqually and Squaxin Island tribes.
To make the grounds accessible, the county has added parking and portable restroom facilities. These, along with a drinking fountain, will be updated to something more permanent in the near future. They’ve also hired a live-in caretaker to “be the eyes and ears of the site and open the gates 365 days a year.” Beyond that, the site is “tailor-made for a park” Hibdon says.
No camping is available at this day-use only park but the views speak for themselves. There are approximately 25 developed acres with two focal destinations. Upon entering, the upper trail is at the grade of the river, surrounded by wooded outlying areas and natural pools for wading. The lower trail provides two viewpoints of the breathtaking natural gorge and waterfall.
The waterfall is the centerpiece and namesake of the park. Deschutes Falls is a 27-foot cascade that plummets into the Deschutes River below where banks rise over 70 feet. The river races through a 400-foot gorge and settles into a wide basin. However, before the main falls, a series of smaller falls cascade down the mossy, green slopes into a series of pools perfect for a dip to cool you from the summer heat.
“Because of the beauty of the site, it’s a natural destination,” says Hibdon. “We (Thurston County Parks) take pride in creating opportunities to experience and protect nature. I estimate that quite a few folks will come from Pierce County too,” he predicts. The park is located at 25005 Bald Hill Road SE and is near the adjoining county line.
As well as increasing amenities, the next phase of development hopes to turn an old settler-style cabin—inherited from the sale—into an information center with historical background about the area posted for visitors and educational trips. Topics will include historical data, details on the old growth Douglas fir trees and county-wide offerings. Down the road, the County also hopes to provide picnic shelters, tables and more amenities for visitors.
The National Recreation and Park Association stresses that, “Just as water, sewer and public safety are considered essential public services, parks are vitally important to establishing and maintaining the quality of life in a community. They provide identity for citizens.”
Hibdon echoes this philosophy. “To folks living in this community, we are their backyards.”
Come join the Thurston County team at Deschutes Falls Park on September 1 and thank them for setting aside a new place to explore, learn and play in our community backyard.