On November 24, 1952, the election board of Mason County meets in the courthouse at Shelton and certifies the results of a special election creating the Port of Hoodsport. The new port district is centered in the township for which it is named, on the southwest portion of Hood Canal. It has a small dock there. After its official designation as a district, it will be virtually dormant for nearly four decades. It will come to life in the late 1980s with the creation of a comprehensive plan and acquisition of more waterfront property. In 2003 an expanded dock will be built and an adjacent park dedicated. The district is hampered by a low tax base and lack of available property for expansion, but will get a boost in 2009 when it will acquire the deed to a closed 80-acre state park. By then the Port will have spent nearly 20 years planning and collecting public feedback. It will have identified its priorities and will have an eye on developing downtown Hoodsport.
A Gift Gets Things Started
Hoodsport, located on the eastern edge of the Olympic Peninsula, is a small town surrounded by natural beauty. Its four-block downtown area is clustered along Hood Canal, a narrow saltwater fjord 40 miles long. Lake Cushman and Olympic National Park are nearby. Logging is part of the area’s heritage. Recreation and tourism augment the local economy. Fishing is popular, thanks to a nearby state hatchery, and scuba divers use a state-designated area immediately north of town.
In an election on November 4, 1952, voters approved creation of a port district centered on that site. The final tally was 196 in favor, 55 opposed. Chosen in the same election were the district’s first three commissioners: Dick Addleman, Emil Lauber, and H. R. Dickinson, who would begin serving their terms in January. When the results were certified on November 24, the Port of Hoodsport became Mason County’s sixth port. (The Port of Tahuya dissolved in 2007, leaving five.) The new district included about five miles of Hood Canal shoreline plus irregularly shaped inland segments to the north and south that extended to Grays Harbor County. The site borders on the national park and includes Cushman Dam and Lake Cushman. The south fork of the Skokomish River runs through it.
At its start the Port downtown consisted of 35 feet of waterfront property and a dock. Property on both sides of the dock belonged to Norman ("Joe") Frint and his wife, Frances, former owners of the Old Mill, an historic restaurant and cocktail lounge that burned down in 1980. The Frints sold the property to the Port in 1990, creating an unbroken stretch of about 350 feet of waterfront for the district.
In 1989 the port commissioners hired a consulting firm to prepare a comprehensive plan that would focus on the waterfront. The next year, a longtime local resident, Ingvald Gronvold (1895-1990), gave the Port $50,000. Gronvold was 94 at the time. He lived near the Hoodsport hatchery and had worked for years as an operator at the City of Tacoma’s hydroelectric plant at Potlatch. Ingie, as he was called, lived frugally -- a former port commissioner remembers him having two televisions stacked in his home, one with pictures but no sound and the other with sound but no pictures -- so his gift was a surprise. He wanted it to be used to help develop the area around the dock.
Charting a course
Gronvold’s intent matched the thrust of the 1989 comprehensive plan. It said the Port’s highest priority should be improvement of the dock area, which by then included a pier, ramp, and floating moorage for about 10 small boats. The next priority was to create a public boat launch either at Lake Cushman or on Hood Canal. A longterm priority was to find an income-producing source. By 1994, when it was time to update the plan, little had been achieved.
As with all of Washington’s ports, Hoodsport’s mission is to create, promote, and support economic development. Several factors made that difficult at Hoodsport. The Port’s service area is much larger than its taxing district, and that district, being rural and small, has a low tax base. Most of the population is in Hoodsport, which in 2000 had fewer than 1,800 people. Further, more than half of the Port’s area is designated as perpetual timberland, meaning it is not taxed on actual value, but at a reduced rate. A grant had helped pay for the waterfront property.
In 2002, an advisory committee of community members met four times to talk about things the Port should try to accomplish. Several public meetings were held to prioritize potential projects. An economic development feasibility study for the greater Hoodsport/Cushman area along with the comprehensive plan update of 2003 both said the Port’s primary goals should be acquiring land for a parking lot, public restrooms, and a building to house new businesses.
Meanwhile, work had been done to renovate the dock area, with its pier and floating moorage. The shoreline was turned into a small park and a sign was erected in memory of its donor. Ingvald J. Gronvold Park was dedicated in May 2003. After 14 years, the top objective of the Port’s original comprehensive plan had been accomplished.
Seeking further public input in late 2005, the Port mailed surveys to all 1,500 residences in the district. The survey asked participants to rank the potential projects identified in the 2003 comprehensive plan. The top three, based on 244 responses, were public restrooms, parking, and marine support facilities. The 2006 comprehensive plan echoed those priorities, along with the need for the Port to generate revenue. The plan estimated that achieving those goals would take five years and cost more than $7 million -- a hefty sum considering that the balance the district carried into that year was about $84,000.
A Master Plan
A master plan completed by a consulting firm in May 2007 brought all the years of planning and opinion gathering into focus and set a clear course of action. It said the Port should work first on developing the recreational potential of two parks in the district, since that would require no further land acquisition, and then develop and execute a downtown Hoodsport master plan. Third on the list was creating a full-service marina separate from the existing dock.
The parks were Hoodsport Trail, an 80-acre state park closed because of budget cuts, and Foothills County Park. The master plan said both had potential as revenue sources if deals could be made with the agencies that owned them. The full-service marina wasn’t ranked higher because it would require additional land and permits and "might well consume the majority of the Port’s efforts and funding, to the detriment of other potential opportunities," the master plan said.
Most intriguing was the proposal for developing downtown Hoodsport. It suggested creating an overall waterfront theme, specifically a "historic seaport village" that would add to the existing dock area an intertidal interpretative walkway and kiosk over the water, an aerator fountain in the water, and, as a centerpiece, a replica of an eighteenth century sailing ship that could produce revenue through tours, cruises, and youth sailing programs. The downtown development plan also proposed a "new technology" version of the Port’s long-sought restrooms.
Also in 2007, for the first time, the Port rented office space (previously commissioners had met in Timberland Regional Library in Hoodsport) and hired a director and assistant to handle administrative duties and help obtain grants. With the 2009 acquisition of Hoodsport Trail State Park, which was cleaned up and re-opened as Hoodsport Community Trail, and a $50,000 grant from the state Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB), the Port still had major challenges -- chiefly, a lack of income -- but also seemed to be gaining momentum.