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New Suquamish dock builds on memories

This 526-foot dock in the heart of downtown Suquamish opens today. - Brad Camp/Staff photo
This 526-foot dock in the heart of downtown Suquamish opens today.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff photo

SUQUAMISH — The newly completed 526-foot dock in the heart of downtown Suquamish opens to the community today. A blessing, led by Suqamish Tribal Chairman Leonard Forsman, will begin a grand opening ceremony this morning and the community has much to celebrate.

A 1,200-square-foot float lies perpendicular to the end of the dock and is designed to accommodate vessels like Argosy Cruise Ships for future tourism ventures, said Bob Gatz, tribal engineer with Suquamish’s Department of Community Development. It will be a free, short-term place for boaters to tie up to during the day to grab lunch, shop or play in Suquamish’s downtown core. Long-term or overnight moorage will be limited to tribal vessels.

The dock, although an important staple to local fisherman and boating enthusiasts, has a deeper meaning to some community members, especially a beaming Marilyn Jones.

Jones, director of the Suquamish Museum, said the new dock will fill a gaping void that’s plagued the community for nearly a decade.

Docks are not new to Suquamish, Jones said. In a back room of the museum, Jones begins pulling out old photos of the area’s first dock, which was built in the early 1900s to accommodate the Puget Sound’s first ferry system, the Mosquito Fleet.

According to historylink.org, the fleet had thousands of steamships connecting bustling ports of the Puget Sound from the 1850s to the 1930s. One route connected Suquamish with Seattle.

“It’s hard to believe we had ferries here in the 1920s,” Jones said. A soft chuckle escapes her mouth as she hands over a photo of the Mosquito Fleet’s Hyak vessel. The name is still carried on by a current Washington State Ferry vessel on the Bremerton/Seattle route.

An old tin-type photograph depicts Suquamish tribal members Willie Pratt, Lawrence Webster, Chuck Thompson and Joe George paddling in front of the dock before a canoe race of 1916. Another photo, taken around the 1930s, shows men and women dressed in pre-World War II-era clothing and military uniforms walking off the ferry.

After the dock fell into disrepair, another was built a small distance away. The second dock, Jones described, was a small pedestrian dock the tribe built for fishing and crabbing.

“I remember going down to the dock for the Fishing Derby during Chief Seattle Days. They had prizes for the biggest fish, the ugliest fish. We would catch perch and all sorts of things off that dock. Sometimes we’d just sit on the dock and watch the water,” she said.

In 1963, that dock was commemorated to past tribal chairman Charles R. Lawrence, who died from a cerebral brain hemorrhage in August of the year before, Jones said. Lawrence was only 39 years old.

“He was my dad,” Jones said, adding she was only 7 years old when it happened. “I remember he almost always had a microphone in his hand. He was always busy doing things with people, for people.”

Like the dock, the memorial is no longer standing for Jones’ dad, but she has a twinkle in her eye.

“It was sad to see the dock fall apart and not be able to take my kids and go down there like I did as a kid. But now, I have grandkids and we’ll have a dock again. It’s exciting,” Jones said. Smiling she added, “They are talking about finding a new way to re-dedicate the area to him (Lawrence).”

Although the old docks were the basis for lasting memories, construction of the new dock means the dock will actually last.

The dock, designed by the Moffatt and Nichol engineering firm, was made with environmentally friendly steel pilings, as opposed to the poisonous creosote logs used in the previous ones. Gatz said the dock’s 14 pilings is a lot less than the 80 some the previous docks required.

“It was also designed with a very narrow deck on it, it’s only six-foot wide to reduce the shadow cast,” Gatz said. “All the little salmon runs come through here and their predators hide in shade.”

No outside grants were used in construction of the dock.

“The dock was built entirely with tribal hard dollars,” Gatz said. “It is truly a tribal dock. … A lot of people in Suquamish don’t live on waterfront and we want to provide as many people as possible with the opportunity to enjoy the water.”

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