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Playing bridge: Exploring both sides of the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Published on: July 01, 2007

Your family can be a part of history in the making when the new Tacoma Narrows suspension bridge opens to the public on Sunday, July 15. This is the third bridge that has been built across this narrow channel of Puget Sound to connect Tacoma and Gig Harbor.

The first bridge opened in 1940. Four months later, it was destroyed in a windstorm. The violent bucking motions it made in the wind before its spectacular collapse earned the bridge the nickname of “Galloping Gertie.” The falling structure sent people running for safety, but there was only one casualty, a spaniel named Tubby. (You can watch video of the collapse at /bridge/meetsusp.html.)

The destruction of the first bridge forever changed how engineers design suspension bridges. The second Narrows bridge took 29 months to build and opened in October 1950. It’s still in use today, but the new third bridge is needed to handle the increased volume of traffic.

At opening-day ceremonies, families will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “Besides honoring the workers who have spent the past five years building the bridge, we want to create an opportunity for families to stroll onto the new bridge deck, gaze up at the 510-foot towers and admire the views of the Olympics and Mount Rainier,” says Victoria Tobin, the Washington State Department of Transportation staffer who is planning the dedication. A 5K bridge run and activity stations are also part of the festivities. Remember: Walking on the new bridge is free on July 15. After that, you’ll pay a toll to cross either bridge.

Being able to walk across the Narrows bridge without traffic whizzing by will be amazing in itself, but as long as you’re in the neighborhood, you might want to check out some of the activities and attractions in Tacoma and Gig Harbor.

Family fun in Tacoma

To learn about the history and the engineering of the three bridges, and to see some incredible photographs, stop by the Washington State History Museum in Tacoma and take a look at the exhibit titled “Bridging the Narrows.”

Another family-friendly attraction on the Tacoma side of the bridge is the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium. The zoo’s staff is excited because Baby Bean, a lowland anoa — one of the smallest water buffalos and an endangered species — gave birth in June. Her baby should be on display by the time you read this. Polar bears, sharks, clouded leopards, elephants, red wolves, sea otters and Pacific walrus are just some of the other animals found at the zoo. You’ll also want to stop by the colorful Kids’ Zone, which offers children a creative place to play, explore and interact with animals.

For a change of pace, watching a Tacoma Rainiers baseball game in an open-air stadium gives parents a chance to relax and offers children endless activities to run off that excess energy.

Play in Gig Harbor

Drive over the old bridge towards Gig Harbor and visit the Narrows Park. Besides providing 1,200 feet of sandy rock beach, this park also offers two free telescopes to zoom in for a close look at the bridge.

To check out the bridge from below, rent a boat. At Rent-a-Boat, you can rent anything from a canoe or kayak to a paddle boat, party boat or even a houseboat. On Saturdays, you can sail on the tall ship Amazing Grace. She’s a lithe schooner, designed for speed and maneuverability, and can hold as many as 25 people.

In 2005, Gig Harbor spawned a salmon sculpture event called “SalmonChanted Harbor.” For this year’s event, local artists have used ceramic tiles, papier-mâché, acrylics, pebbles, glass and mirrors to create “Hot Rod Salmon,” “Sporting Chance,” “Fish & Chips,” “Salmon Dango” and more. You’ll find the sculptures in shops and restaurants all over the historic downtown, along with “Chalk the Walk,” allowing anyone to draw on the sidewalks for fun and prizes.

Writer Heather Larson is based in Tacoma.

Did you know?

A suspension bridge is constructed of a deck or roadway that is suspended from cables anchored at either end, usually supported at intervals by towers. Suspension bridges were one of the earliest types of bridges devised by humans. The most primitive version was a vine rope linking two sides of a chasm. To get across, a person hung from the rope and pulled himself along, hand over hand.

Narrows Bridge open house
State Route 16
July 15, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Free
Free bus service via Pierce Transit from Tacoma Community College on the Tacoma side and from Jackson Avenue on the Gig Harbor side.

Washington State History Museum
1911 Pacific Ave., Tacoma
Summer hours: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays & Saturdays: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Thursdays: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. (free admission 5 p.m.-8 p.m.)
Admission: $6-$8, family (two adults and as many as four children) $25. Children younger than 5 free.

Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
5400 N. Pearl St., Tacoma
Summer hours: Daily, 9:30 a.m.-6 p.m.
Admission: $7-$10. Discounts for Pierce County residents.

Tacoma Rainiers
Cheney Stadium, 2502 S. Tyler, Tacoma
General admission: $6
On July 15 (bridge opening day), the Rainiers play the Fresno Grizzlies at 1:35 p.m.

Narrows Park
Gig Harbor
Directions: /sr16narrowsbridge/misc/newpark

8829 N. Harborview Drive,
Gig Harbor
Call for rates and reservations.

Amazing Grace (tall ship)
9017 N. Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor
Summer sails: Saturdays, 10 a.m.-1 p.m.
Tickets: $55 per person


The Wesley Inn
6575 Kimball Drive, Gig Harbor
Complimentary continental breakfast, pet- and family-friendly.

Kopachuck State Park
Five miles west of Gig Harbor
Basic camping fees: standard campsite, $17; full utility site, $24.
An additional $2 per night is added to the basic camping fees.

Kid-friendly eats
Antique Sandwich Shop
5102 N. Pearl, Tacoma

Spiro’s Pizza & Pasta
3108 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor

More information at

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