by Alison Bailey
Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls has been a site of significance in the southern Puget Sound region for thousands of years. The Olympia Tumwater Foundation has owned and maintained this land for nearly sixty years and has exciting plans for its preservation and celebration well under way.
Citizens of native nations such as Squaxin, Nisqually and many others gathered on the land around the falls for thousands of years prior to the arrival of Europeans and their descendants. European explorers passed through in the late eighteenth century. They began to settle and fabricate some of the region’s earliest industry there in the mid-nineteenth century, including the iconic Olympia Brewing Company. The owners of the brewery, the Schmidt family, gifted the land to a newly formed nonprofit in the early 1960s: the Olympia Tumwater Foundation.
“There’s more history in this park than anywhere else in Thurston County,” explains Lee Wojnar, the Foundation’s president of seven years. “As stewards of the park, it’s the Foundation’s job to tell its story. The new facility will do just that. The improved park will be an asset to the community well into the future.”
The Foundation has partnered with the Squaxin Tribe, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the cities of Olympia and Tumwater, and South Puget Sound Community College to imagine a vibrant community space nestled between the mouth of the Deschutes River and I-5. Ron Thomas at Thomas Architecture Studios has designed a dynamic new structure in the center of the park. Where an original though unremarkable structure currently houses a small office and a large maintenance garage, the Foundation will erect a classy, functional community gathering space.
Roll-away exhibits will feature history about how the land around the falls has been used over time. The space will transition easily into a 200 to 300 person event space for weddings, corporate events and community gatherings. It will prominently showcase artwork from local native nations and its design, inspired by longhouses as well as old saw mill architecture, allows the falls to become part of the decor from behind large rolling doors. A small taproom will feature local beer and cider.
“We want to encourage heritage tourism,” says John Freedman, the Foundation’s Executive Director. “There’s also a critical shortage of unique event space in Thurston County, and this revenue will help sustain the Foundation’s work and create new jobs.” According to a study done by the Thurston Economic Development Council, the park and the Foundation already generate over $2 million in local economic impact annually. An event space like this will only increase that number.
The improvements are estimated to cost a total of $7.5 million. The Washington legislature gifted the Foundation $1.2 million in the state’s most recent capital budget. Prior to the legislature’s generous gift, Brewery Park at Tumwater Falls received no federal, state or local public funding. Maintained entirely by the Foundation, the park is a destination on a new and growing ADA-compliant trail system, and home to a recently revamped fish hatchery. Construction starts on the new exhibit and gathering space in early 2024 and will be the centerpiece of a treasured piece of land for all to enjoy starting in 2025.
Sponsorship opportunities for local businesses are plentiful. Business owners and individuals alike are welcome to contact John Freedman with interest in supporting these developments by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 360-943-2550.