Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, Washington is a large urban park in the United States. The 702-acre (2.84 km Sq) park includes Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, the Rose Garden, Rhododendron Garden, beaches, trails, a boardwalk, a boathouse, a Washington State Ferries ferry dock for the Point Defiance-Tahlequah route to Vashon Island, Fort Nisqually, an off-leash dog park, and most notably a stand of old-growth forest. More than three million people visit it every year. Point Defiance Park is maintained and operated by the Metropolitan Park District of Tacoma.
Point Defiance Park offers something for all its visitors, both whales, wildlife and people. Not all the wild animals are confined inside Zoo & Aquarium. From high cliffs overlooking the Tacoma Narrows people can watch Bald Eagles feed on salmon runs passing through on the strong tidal currents. Their calls can be heard from their nests in the old growth forest that is preserved and make up the northern 400 acres (1.6 km Sq) of the park. In winter sea lions migrating from California frolic and feed in the swirling tides that rush beneath the Gig Harbor overlook—the northern most point of the peninsula. Harbor seals are common near the tip of the point most of the year. Seal pups are frequently observed north of Owen Beach in late summer and early fall (humans and their dogs should keep their distance to avoid spooking the pups.)
As the largest urban park in Pierce County, the network of roads and trails weaving through the forest preserve provides a quiet retreat for joggers, cyclists, hikers. Trails are marked with symbols. Portions of The Five Mile Drive are closed to cars on Saturday. There are many hiking trails along Pt. Defiance's cliffs, that have sweeping views of Vashon Island, Dalco Passage, Gig Harbor, and the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. The road network also passes by Fort Nisqually.
Point Defiance Park began as a military reservation after the Wilkes Expedition visited Puget Sound in the 1840s to map the bays and estuaries. Wilkes is thought to have noted that with a fort positioned at the point, and at Gig Harbor across the narrows, one could "Defy" the World. The high cliffs and prominent location were never used for military operations. In 1888, President Grover Cleveland authorized its use as a public park. By 1890, streetcars brought visitors to wander among the gardens. In 1903, a waterfront pavilion was completed. By 1907 a seaside resort designed by Frederick Heath offered heated saltwater bathing in a pavilion called the Nereides Baths located on a bluff above the boathouse.
Brownfields and boating facilities
After a century of depositing slag into the waters of Puget Sound, Asarco's Tacoma Smelter created a peninsula to form the park's protected harbor. The Tacoma Yacht Club sits on the peninsula's promontory as a guardian of snug harbor. A public boat launch at the entrance of the harbor is part of the park's recreational facilities.
Science and Math Institute
In the fall of 2009, Tacoma Public Schools opened the Science and Math Institute (SAMI), a science- and math-centered magnet high school within Point Defiance Park. SAMI features classes on the beach, pagoda, forests, and Zoo. Metro Parks approached the school district and gave them space for portable classrooms. The school has a concept and schedule similar to the district's other magnet high school, Tacoma School of the Arts (TSOTA).
Diverse Landscapes and Activities
In addition to old-growth forest with 450-year-old Douglas fir (Mountaineers Tree) are 250-foot vertical bluffs exposing rich geology. Groups and individuals regularly gather at the park for picnics, weddings, organized runs, and other special events. Saturday and Sunday mornings Five Mile Drive outer loop closed to cars, giving pedestrians and cyclists free rein in park's most popular destination. It has an off-leash dog exercise area; fee-based attractions include Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium.