For many of us, the sea is a mystery that beckons and calls to us—there is a reason ocean-front property is prime real estate! It can be both calming and frightening, full of adventure and unknowns that pique our curiosity. Thanks to the hard work of the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport (GHHS) and its partners, Aberdeen’s south waterfront will be getting a wonderful overhaul that both visitors and residents will love. The creation of Seaport Landing will provide jobs, education opportunities, tourism attractions and public waterfront access so we can all answer the call to the sea more often.

Grays Harbo Historical Seaport Wheel
An old Weyco landmark. “The story is that they found them in the river when they were doing a cleanup and they decided to put them out front,” says Bednarik. “We still have them as a marker and a tribute to what used to be.” Photo courtesy: Grays Harbor Historical Seaport

The Grays Harbor Historical Seaport is partnering with the City of Aberdeen, Coastal Community Action Program, Quinault Indian Nation, Grays Harbor College, Washington State Department of Natural Resources and Washington State Department of Ecology to redevelop close to 40 acres on the Chehalis River that was once a thriving mill complex and active commercial boatyard. The process really started when the Seaport Authority moved to their current location at the old Weyco sawmill in 2013. “This move has opened up so many opportunities for us and for Grays Harbor,” says Brandi Bednarik, executive director for the GHHS.

The new Seaport Landing is part of a long-term plan to build the economy in the area. “Through this development we hope to provide public access to the water, education, history, family events, and we hope to promote tourism and economic development in Grays Harbor,” continues Bednarik. “Our current long-term plan includes a hotel and restaurant, a maritime trade school onsite and in partnership with the Aberdeen School District and Grays Harbor Community College, and a maritime museum. We would also hope for additional shops and small businesses.”

According to their briefing statement on the Seaport Landing, over six million people per year drive through Aberdeen on their way to and from the Washington Coast. Aberdeen, with a population around 17,000, has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state, at 11 percent. With so many tourists driving through every year, the GHHS, City, and their partners saw a real opportunity to capitalize on tourism, thus providing commerce, jobs and workforce training for the residents of Aberdeen.

Seaport Landing Projects

A concept drawing of the future Seaport Landing. Photo courtesy: Grays Harbor Historical Seaport

Currently, the master plan for Seaport Landing includes several large projects that are in the development and finance stages. An interpretive center, that will have interactive learning for school-age children to learn about the maritime history and ecology of Grays Harbor. Hotel and restaurant(s) to attract tourism. A waterfront park and trail featuring activity nodes and interpretive elements while enhancing the habitat along the shoreline. A spar shop in a renovated industrial building for unique woodworking such as ship masts and custom wood products. This will be run by GHHS and will also have education opportunities. And finally, environmental remediation to address the impact of the 100 years of industrial use that property was used for in the past.

The building demolition is already funded through a State Capital Budget request. This includes removal of industrial buildings in poor condition to make room for the hotel project. The other projects are in the process of grant approvals.

Future Plans for the Tall Ships

f you  haven’t been for a ride or tour on one of the Grays Harbor tall ships, you are missing out on an adventure of a lifetime! Photo credit: Rick Horn

The Seaport is not the only thing that has been getting restoration. Recently, the Hawaiian Chieftain was having hull work, which resulted in a cancellation of her returning to her port in Aberdeen during the Fourth of July festivities. In addition, Bednarik says they are working on restoring some longboats they have for use in Grays Harbor and during family camps.

The original move in 2013 was geared toward having an actual seaport where they could not only conduct maintenance on the ships, but have them at their home port more. “It was always part of our original vision for the organization that in addition to the ships, we would have a public waterfront development,” shares Bednarik. In the future she adds that, “we are working towards having Lady Washington in Washington for most of the year, with a heavy presence in Grays Harbor throughout the year.”

Throughout the coming year look for many family-friendly events here in Aberdeen at their event center including live music, crafts games, movie nights, dances, and other holiday themed activities. 2019 was the first year for their haunted tours, and the GHHS plans on growing them for 2020.

The GHHS has applied for grants for a new electronic sign and a commercial kitchen to increase the scope of events they can hold at the event center. “We should know by December on the grants, but I will resubmit to other foundations if we don’t get,” explains Bednarik. “We plan on having the commercial kitchen done by June 2020 if it all works out. The sign would be trickier so if we don’t get the grant for that, we will probably do it for one of our fundraising campaigns next year.”

Grays Harbor Historical Seaport Sign
If received, grant monies will be used for a new electric sign and a commercial kitchen to further event possibilities. Photo courtesy: Grays Harbor Historical Seaport

There are definitely ways the public can help with these projects. Donations, of course, are accepted, but they also need volunteers for answering the phone, yard work, painting and general site improvements, vessel maintenance, event promotion, event preparation and helps at the events themselves.

In addition to events, the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport also has educational programs, including their new The Seafarer Collective, which puts people into living wage jobs in the maritime industry.  “We are very excited and proud of that program, says Bednarik. “We hope to bring more of this type of program to Grays Harbor as we develop the Seaport Landing site. We also do our Voyages of Explorers programs focused on fourth and fifth graders so we can get kids out on the water.”

Answer the sea’s call and head to the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport. You’ll be glad you did. For more information on ship schedules, educational opportunities and updates to the new Seaport Landing Project, visit the Grays Harbor Historical Seaport website.

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