There are many reasons people choose to make Gig Harbor their home: the friendliness of the community, the beauty of the surrounding area, the multitude of opportunities to be involved and more. But for many, being on the water is something that is the driving force. For both residents and tourists, the Waterfront Walking Tours have provided a wonderful opportunity to learn more about this area, both past and present.
In its fourth year, the Waterfront Walking Tours are sponsored by the Downtown Waterfront Alliance, Harbor WildWatch and the Harbor History Museum, all of whom work together in a supportive relationship for the betterment of Gig Harbor.
“The Alliance has an excellent relationship with both organizations. Harbor WildWatch participates in our annual Chalk the Harbor event, has a booth at our Waterfront Farmers Market each week and participates in our popular Sip and Stroll events,” said Josh Sherwin, special projects coordinator at Gig Harbor Downtown Waterfront Alliance. “Also, we have held our annual Wine and Food Festival at the Harbor History Museum for seven years.”
According to Sherwin, those who have participated in the Waterfront Walking Tours are approximately half local residents and half tourists. “The tours are also a great way for new residents to learn about the heritage of their community,” said Sherwin.
Lindsey Stover, executive director for Harbor WildWatch, said the idea for the walking tours came about after Josh Sherwin attended a Main Street Conference a few years back. He attended a walking tour that the host city was delivering and thought it would be a great addition to Gig Harbor. “He presented the idea at the DWA Promotions Meeting back in 2014,” said Stover. “Harbor WildWatch was planning to create a number of wildlife tours along the waterfront already, so this seemed like the perfect opportunity to partner. Of course, the museum was a natural fit for this partnership and they promptly signed as well.”
In addition to a history lesson, Sherwin said another popular aspect of the tours is an opportunity for people to meet others.
“At the start of the tours, no one really knows each other, but by the time the tour is over, new friendships and camaraderie have developed, and this is due largely in part to the personalities and approach of our tour guides giving the tours,” said Sherwin.
The popularity of the tours has increased, and it was not long after starting in 2015 that the Washington State Main Street Program awarded the three organizations an Excellence on Main Award – Outstanding Promotional Event for the Waterfront Walking Tours.
There are two different tours that people can choose from, both of which are led by volunteers with the Downtown Waterfront Alliance, Harbor WildWatch and the Harbor History Museum.
The original tour, Harbor Heritage: Then and Now, is offered each Saturday morning through August 25. The tour begins at 10am at the Maritime Pier at 3003 Harborview Drive and lasts two hours. Suitable for all ages, this tour provides a look at the founding families, pioneering industries as well as the wildlife and natural resources that brought the community together. It also gives one a glimpse into what life may have been like in the Harbor in the early days and how the past may have influenced where we are today.
New this year is a one-hour Wednesday evening tour that begins at 5:30pm. This tour, unlike the Harbor Heritage Tour, is geared toward adults. Enjoy an evening stroll along the waterfront, beginning at the entrance to the Harbor History Museum, and learn about net sheds and the historic fishing fleet as well as the effects of prohibition in the harbor both in the past and present. The tour concludes at the Heritage Distilling Company.
“Adults enjoy ending the Skiffs to Spirits Tour at Heritage Distilling,” said Sherwin.
They recently updated their two tours, something Sherwin credits Rachel Easton of Harbor WildWatch with. “She recently became a certified interpreter and has brought best practices to our 12 tour guides when referencing and discussing the history of the native population and the Salish Sea,” said Sherwin.
Although they have discussed adding a new tour, they have yet to make a final decision. “We have multiple ideas, including touring historic home sites, a spooky Halloween tour and something we call ‘Maker Tours’; tours that visit local downtown businesses to learn how things are made at those businesses,” said Sherwin. “There’s an awful lot of creativity taking place at many businesses downtown, and we think these tours would help bring awareness of this to our local community and visitors.”
Although the tours are presented June through August, Sherwin said they can offer the tour any time of the year so long as it is arranged in advance. And depending upon the audience, they can tailor the tours to the specific group.
The good news is they haven’t turned anyone away and they always have two guides on each tour, one of whom is an expert from Harbor WildWatch. “Our largest group so far was about 40 people. Our guides use a microphone when they speak so they are easy for all to hear,” said Sherwin. And … the tours are free!
Whether you are a local and want to learn more about the community you call home or a visitor, these tours are something to put on your list! Fun and informative, you will not only learn more about Gig Harbor’s past and present, but you may meet a few new friends along the way!
Note that tours are a one-way tour, so you may ride the trolley back to the starting point or enjoy a stroll back and enjoy all the harbor has to offer!