Skip to main content

Bank on Fun and Challenge at Melanie’s Park

An epic climbing tower is the centerpiece of this just-opened waterfront park

Sharon Mead headshot

Published on: April 10, 2024

Melanie's Park in Tacoma
Melanie’s Park in Tacoma. Photo: Sharon Mead

There is a magic word that always catches the interest of my kids: “new.” So, when I told my daughter that we were going to explore a new park, she was excited. When I told her that her BFF would be there too, she couldn’t get into the car fast enough.

The two girls were quickly out of the car and freewheeling around Melanie Jan LaPlant Dressel Park (a.k.a. Melanie’s Park) the minute we arrived at the Thea Foss Waterway on Dock Street. 

The park is named after Melanie Dressel, former Columbia Bank CEO. Her intention, as well as that of Metro Parks Tacoma, was to create a destination that resonates with the history of the area and with children and families who live here. Located in the shadow of downtown Tacoma’s Columbia Banking Center, the visionary project is the culmination of years of environmental cleanup work, design and construction. The park will officially open on April 12.

two girls playing at Melanie's Park in Tacoma
Starting the climb up the epic tower. Photo: Sharon Mead

Playing with the past

A 36-foot climbing tower rises as the central focus of the park and brings to mind the former Consumer Central Heating Plant that once stood there. It’s hard to miss as you drive by and will captivate kids of all ages who can’t resist the urge to figure out just what it is. Although the tower may be a challenge younger kids may not wish to tackle, it will beckon them to come back again and again because it’s not your run-of-the-mill climbing tower.

My 4-year-old and her 5-year-old friend made it up a few of the tower’s climbing levels, which have resting platforms built into the rope ladders, but they never made it to the first stop with a payoff — a 20-foot-high twisty tube slide. But even that didn't deter them; they just slid and played on the bottom of the slide. 

Those who make it all the way to the top will be rewarded with a 360-degree vista that’s especially beautiful on a sunny day when the mountain is out. I noticed older kids at the park had no trouble navigating this dominant playground feature as they were all smiles emerging from the slide after making the climb.

A 50-foot-long pedestrian bridge with railroad trestle supports allows climbers to start up the tower at the second level, and is ADA compliant. Adults may prefer to start here, too. I peered up inside the tower from this vantage point and decided it was best left for young climbers, rather than the young at heart. But there were a few adults who made the climb. Just be warned, there’s no room to stand up if you do make it to the top.  

two girls playing on a slide in Melanie's Park in Tacoma
The wavy slide might be smaller, but it’s still tons of fun. Photo: Sharon Mead

On the opposite side of the park, the girls took full advantage of a second, smaller wavy slide that reminded me of a waterfall. They climbed up the turf-covered hillsides (don’t worry, there are stairs too) and slid down to their hearts’ content. Rolling down the hillsides were also a hit with these two. 

The girls also enjoyed climbing along Log Scramble, a park design element reflective of the timber industry that once dominated this area. Both the wavy slide and smoothly sanded climbing logs are appropriate for children ages 2–12, and they can easily accommodate a gaggle of kids at a time. 

A word about keeping an eye on your kids: It’s hard to see into the tower from the outside, especially past the midpoint. But you’ll easily be able to watch them play all over the park from the pedestrian bridge.

A paved area under the bridge, adjacent to the pavilion, connects the park from street to shore and has several picnic tables and benches available. I envision this space as a natural place to bring small scooters or wheeled toys or accommodate a game of tag.

There also are amphitheater-style seating that face the Waterway with views of the Murray Morgan Bridge and would make for a fabulous spot for a picnic or to take a snack break.

two girls in the tower at Melanie's Park in Tacoma
Hanging out on a resting platform in the tower. Photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Art and history

Art and history are woven into this nearly one-acre park. Before the commercialization of this parcel, it was an important place for the Puyallup Tribe who used the shore for fishing camps. The design of the park was informed by the Puyallup First Nations people. I was introduced to the three informational boards by the Metro Parks staff and they explained that tribal artists had created the stamped inset designs on the cement using bright colors. 

Want to learn how to say a Puyallup word or two? Scan the signs’ QR codes to hear the Puyallup pronunciation of words such as “crab” or “salmon.” It’s an unexpected feature, and one that’s fascinating to both kids and adults.

mom and daughter on a slide at Melanie's Park
Photo: Allison Sutcliffe

Bonus features

Melanie’s Park offers a built-in bonus: trains! When my two boys were younger, they would have salivated at being so close to a busy train yard across Dock Street. However, if your child dislikes loud noises, the sensory element here may be too much with the trains so close.

In addition to the play area, Melanie’s Park is equipped with a rentable pavilion on the Southeast corner of the park, ideal for small parties and events. So, your next birthday party dilemma is solved with exterior picnic tables, the pavilion space and the draw of a new playground — all with a view!

There is no water access from the park for protection of the waterline environmental caps. However, in the future, the park will be connected along the waterfront by the Esplanade. Mitigation planting has been incorporated into the park as part of the reclamation work of the land.

From one parent to another, you may want to keep a close eye on small children as the park is tucked between the Waterway and Dock Street. But if you are keeping a tally of your kid’s favorite parks, I’m certain this will end up on the short list. 

two girls playing on a climbing structure at Melanie's Park in Tacoma
Climbing on the Log Scramble. Photo: Allison Sutcliffe

More nearby places to play

Although Melanie’s Park seems out of the way, it’s surprisingly close to more than a few family-friendly Tacoma attractions. Just up the pedestrian-safe overpass on Pacific Avenue is the pay-as-you-will Tacoma Children’s Museum and the Tacoma Art Museum.

Continuing along you’ll find Anthem Coffee & Tea, located inside the Washington State History Museum — a great combo for food and fun. Try one of the creative flatbread pizzas and a warm drink and then explore the museum, especially on Family Saturdays or third Thursdays, when admission is free after 3 p.m.

The original Northwest-famous confectionary factory, Brown & Haley, is an extra special treat. While you’ll likely need to drive there, your kids will probably be on board when they find out about the famous Mountain Bars, Almond Roca and variety of other available sweets.

If you go...

Find it: Melanie’s Park is located at 1147 Dock Street along the Thea Foss Waterway in Tacoma. It officially opens on April 12, 2024.

Parking: There is street parking with meters, as well as two nearby pay parking lots. An ADA-accessible street parking space is available in front on Dock Street, designated for those with a properly displayed permit.

Facilities: There are two bathrooms with a water fountain as part of the pavilion.

Get the best of ParentMap delivered right to your inbox.

Share this resource with your friends!