Published on May 13th, 2016 | by M. Morford


Give some life to Mason Gulch

Who wouldn’t want a new, pristine park walking distance from their home?

Who wouldn’t want visibly  eroding slopes below a major arterial monitored and stabilized?

What neighbors wouldn’t want their local elementary school to have a wilderness park immediately accessible?

What neighbors, in a neighborhood known for its streets full of people out walking, would not want a quiet, year-round, lushly green, off-street new and beautiful area for walking?

These would be my neighbors: the neighbors who live around Mason Gulch.

There have been two public meetings on the future of Mason Gulch. The City’s primary purposes for these meetings is to hear public input on preferences for the future of the gulch and to keep people informed on the progress stabilizing the slopes – especially around North Stevens Street, near Sherman Elementary School.

But you wouldn’t know that by attending either of the two public meetings.

In fact, by gauging the comments, you might have gotten the feeling that the City deliberately wanted to block views, charge property owners unfair taxes, and even make neighbors pay for pruning trees on city property.

Yes, my neighbors said these things, and, yes, they are false, irrelevant or ridiculous.

But, while factually false, these fears and frustrations are reasonable given the recent assaults on the historic character and identity of the neighborhood; whether it was Blue Ribbon Catering, Proctor Station or a looming multi-billion dollar methanol plant, people in Tacoma’s North End are in no mood for big changes and grand plans from outsiders.  

But somehow this recent history has obscured a project, at least how I see it, as advantageous to the community and certainly future generations.

Here are just a few of my observations:

Puget Park, formerly a neglected, dangerous, litter-filled gulch, is now a hugely popular jaunt for runners, walkers, and nature-enthusiasts year-round. It is far cleaner, better maintained, and safer than it has ever been.


Ferns and a stream at the bottom of Mason Gulch.

Mason Gulch–located near the edge of North Stevens–is larger with more natural features and varied landscapes than its Proctor neighbor. Primarily wetlands, it is the home of a year-round stream, but  also holds higher ground than Puget gulch and a vast variety of native fauna.

Imagine being a science teacher (or even better, a student) at nearby Sherman Elementary School: What could be better than walking, literally, across the street for a biology lesson or a wilderness experience?

What science teacher wouldn’t love immediate access to a year-round biodiversity lab with salmon spawning walking distance from school?

Mason Gulch, besides being the most primeval place in Tacoma, holds some unique remnants of early Tacoma history–the stream was the original water source for the first settlement of Old Town, Tacoma. If you look carefully, you can still see a few of the original wire-bound cedar staves used as water pipes.

Mason Gulch is that rarest of refuges – a forgotten wilderness in town.

Some complain that it would be the wrong kind of refuge – a magnet for transients and vandals.

It already is.

And like Puget Park, the more public use it sees, the safer it will be. As it is now, law enforcement and emergency personnel cannot get there – especially at night. Open access would make it far safer.

One neighbor complained, “Tacoma has enough parks!”

Wouldn’t you love to live in a community with too many parks?

Every city has parks with playgrounds, benches and green open spaces, but Tacoma has parks like nowhere else; who else has a Blueberry Park , a food forest, a destination-worthy bike trail , and now, the possibility of an intact wilderness all within city limits?

Tacoma has many hidden treasures, and I am a bit reluctant to go public about what is probably the last haven in town, but the time seems right.

The slopes are in need of immediate intervention, and Tacoma is entering, finally, an empowered sense of identity.

I ask my friends and neighbors to think beyond the possible but unlikely, and consider the future of our neighborhood, our city, and our children.

If you support (or oppose) opening access to this unique jewel of a place, or if you just want more information, click here .

The next Mason Gulch Public Workshop will be held on May 25th at the Center for Urban Waters, 326 East D Street, from 6:00 to 7:30pm.


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About the Author

Writer, teacher, community story-teller, poet, advocate of the oddities of earthly existence. Scavenger of the unlikely.

6 Responses to Give some life to Mason Gulch

  1. Rob McNair-Huff says:

    Thank you for this piece, Mort. I completely agree with you. My only concern about turning Mason Gulch into a park is that it be done in a manner that is sensitive to the habitat. Some simple pathways and benches to sit and take in the nature, rather than any serious clearing of the trees.

  2. Barbara Parsons says:

    Thank you, Mort. I am still gathering info on this project, which is half a block away. You’ve not mentioned the effect on wildlife. Project websites mention topping trees to “improve neighborhood views.” Lovely idea for the six neighbors with views, but what about the rare birds who live in those trees? What about the deer who are already struggling to find privacy in the north end? Your neighbors are annoyed because, yes, Tacoma has set a recent precedent of acting first, then clearing the project with us later. But we are also annoyed because they are manipulating our reactions in advance in a transparent manner. You would think we would enjoy improvement in the gulch, sure. But experience has led us to believe that Tacoma projects have hidden agendas. I don’t care so much about annoyances to humans, but we have to protect animals, plants and historic buildings. These are the things Tacoma is proving not to value.

  3. Alex says:

    I am the owner of a Tacoma landscape company ( and I grew up about 5 blocks from here. I would love to help make this a reality, even if I just consult on ideas I’m glad to help!

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