Thursday, July 8, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Des Moines: Not just any port, it's a refuge worth visiting

Northwest Weekend editor

City Walks

Take a walk and discover a Seattle neighborhood.
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Take a photo tour.

The walk: Soak up big-sky views of South Puget Sound, lumbering freighters and Maury Island while you hobnob with friendly local fisherfolk during this amble along the waterfront in Des Moines, a community named by settlers who migrated in the late 1800s from Iowa's capital city.

Start at the south end of the 830-slip Des Moines Marina, next to Anthony's HomePort Restaurant. Go northward on the sidewalk fronting the marina past alcoves with benches and marigold-brightened planters. Most boats are hidden by roofed docks and the view is limited, so walk briskly toward the long fishing pier about a half-mile north at the marina's far end.

Diversions along the way: If you're sloopless in Seattle, detour down the ramp at "L" Dock to the little barge office that is headquarters to a broker with a bulletin board of boats for sale.

Continuing north past a working boatyard, you might get to watch as a big yacht is hauled across your path to be launched by a self-propelled boat hoist that looks like an oversized Tinkertoy frame on wheels.

Next, rather than gawk at disarmingly large, smoked-glass condos edging the parking lot, turn your attention ahead to the white gabled building, trimmed in royal blue, that looks like it should house a Rhode Island yacht club.

A school of tiny fish darts through the water at Des Moines Marina.
It is the harbormaster's office, making a prim nautical statement with its manicured lawn and garden. Pause to inspect the lacquered, 6-foot chainsaw carving of a sea captain, as well as a large signpost topped by a wooden salmon that offers a "you are here" chart fix (47 degrees 24 minutes north by 122 degrees 20 minutes west) with pointers to destinations such as Neah Bay (131 miles) or Dockton (9 miles). (Here, also, is your best bet for a pleasant public restroom.)

Arriving at the fishing pier, walk to the end and back, a quarter-mile round trip. Watch crab fishermen haul in their traps and pick through keepers and throwbacks (including, on our visit, a many-legged purple sea star that was whirled Frisbee-like back into the Sound).

Marine life is relatively abundant, due in part to an underwater artificial reef constructed with more than 36,000 tires, 30 barge loads of concrete and more than 200 porcelain items including toilets, bathtubs and sinks.

"You even get shrimp, and lots of fish because the (Des Moines) creek comes out right here," said Tim Sumang, a regular visitor, grilling burgers by a picnic table at the head of the pier on a recent visit. "This is a beautiful spot, with the view of the ships doing the big turn!"

The "big turn" is around Point Robinson, across the Sound, as ships head to and from Tacoma. Bring binoculars for a good look at the red-roofed lighthouse. No hills or headlands obstruct the view, so you'll do a lot of neck-craning to take in the big sky.

The last leg of this walk skirts the north edge of the marina parking lot before you exit to the street and immediately turn left into Des Moines Beach Park, bypassing a lone house that divides the park and marina. (The sidewalk peters out here, so for about 50 feet you share pavement with cars.)

Angle left to cross a footbridge, and enjoy the perfume of hot-pink wild roses bordering the creek. To the left is a small public beach, historically used by Native Americans, as evidenced by ancient middens and a nearby burial site.

In the 1930s, the Swedish Church of the Covenant built a church camp here, erecting most of the park's quaint, barn-red buildings to your right, including the "Founders Lodge" formerly used as a senior center but troubled by winter floods from the creek that runs beneath it.

A good stopping point if you have kids in tow is the park's play structure and swings. From here, retrace your steps for a round trip of about 2 miles. Note: The marina and park are the setting for the annual Des Moines Waterland Festival July 21-25.

Lunch stop: In the marina, the salty old Breakers restaurant (206-878-7719) offers hearty clam chowder to go ($4.95 for a bowl), just right for a fishing-pier picnic. Anthony's offers table service in a more upscale setting.

Secret tip: For a hidden picnic spot, go to the park and follow a path on the north bank of the creek to a picnic table in a nook with a very private view of the burbling stream. The bank here has been restored with plantings of willow, wild currant, scrub fir and pine.

Access: Mostly level sidewalk or pier with few obstacles, though the connection between marina and park may be impractical for the mobility-challenged and — on days of busy traffic — unsafe for small children.

Parking/bus routes: Free parking in the marina lot. From Marine View Drive South, enter the marina from South 227th Street. On Metro Transit, take Route 130; disembark at Marine View Drive South and South 226th Street, then walk south one block and west two blocks to the marina.

Brian J. Cantwell: 206-748-5724 or

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company


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