“It is the city’s responsibility to preserve a place where the people can get recreation, where children from the congested districts can congregate without danger, and where mothers, nurses, and invalids can find a healthful resort during mid-day without being cramped for space or menaced by shows and their consequent temptations to spend their spare time within the walls of a packed building rather than in the health giving environment of trees, plants and flowers,” said the Tacoma Board of Commissioners in 1909, in response to a push for development in what was then one of the city’s only parks: Wright Park. It’s a good thing that they preserved it, because these days, Wright Park is an arboretum with over 600 trees from 145 species. The trees come from all over the world, some of which were planted by dignitaries visiting the city.
Wright Park was founded in 1886, when Charles Wright donated 20 acres of land to the city to be used for a public park. It has since grown to 27 acres which includes walking paths, a pond, trees and the WW Seymour Botanical Conservatory, as well as amenities like playgrounds and lawn bowling. It is considered a “Level 1”, or “Signature” Park: one of the highest maintained and most trafficked parks in the massive Metro Parks system, drawing visitors from neighborhoods all over the city.
In its early days, according to Metro Parks’ Joey Furuto, horse shoes were popular at the park. “There used to be national tournaments here,” he explained. In 2017 the horse shoe pits see a little less use, but the bowling lawn has recently been seeing much more traffic: locals have revitalized a league, said Furuto, which was extremely active throughout the season.
It takes a lot of sweat to care for the high-traffic park. According to Furuto, hundreds of labor hours are spent just raking and removing the fall leaves, not to mention caring for the grass and lawns, picking up trash, etc. The conservatory’s plants are all locally grown and hundreds of plants are brought in and removed every week, with special exhibits for certain times of year. Right now, the greenhouse is growing poinsettias for the holiday exhibit.
The trees in the park are in constant rotation. Since some are over 120 years old, they become diseased and die, at which time they are replaced by younger saplings. When I spoke to Furuto, he pointed out some tiny young trees that had just been planted the day before: new additions to the park’s already impressive repertoire. Each tree bears a sign that tells us what it is and where it comes from; as we walked, we passed trees from as far away as Morocco.
Charles Wright’s vision for a breathing space for Tacoma residents to escape urban bustle seems to have far outlived him, but Wright Park is still growing and changing. The city has plans to grow and expand the conservatory, adding a flexible use space with a living roof leading down to a dome where more botanical displays can be held. On the horizon this year will be public restrooms attached to the conservatory, with the bigger changes coming throughout the next several years. Wright Park has come a long way since its founding 127 years ago, but now as then, it’s a beautiful spot for a stroll among the trees.