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Zuanich Point Park - An Oasis and Place for Reflection in the Midst of Industry

January 2002

Local History

Zuanich Point Park - An Oasis and Place for Reflection in the Midst of Industry

by Aaron Joy

Aaron M. Joy, has a degree in sociology from WWU. Currently unemployed, he spends his time painting, playwrighting and is an actor with Nearly Stellar Productions, a touring theater group that visits retirement homes and care centers.

This is the sixteenth in a series examining Bellingham’s parks, based on the book “A History of Bellingham’s Parks” by Aaron Joy, only available from the author.

Zuanich Point Park
Created: 1994
Location: Squalicum Harbor
Area: 1½ acres
Originally called Harbor Point Park, the name was changed to Zuanich Point Park in 1995.

In 1990, a small kite-flying park, barely stretching an acre, was designed for the entrance to Squalicum Harbor. This park, along with Fairhaven’s Marine Park, would be owned by the Port of Bellingham, as opposed to the Bellingham Parks Department.

Construction began in 1993, half funded by the Port of Bellingham and half by a state grant from the Interagency Committee for Outdoor Recreation. This was the second attempt at securing a grant for the park’s construction. A prior attempt was denied because the blueprints contained no boating facilities and the layout was “irregularly shaped.” Ninety moorage berths and a facelift to the design implemented the eventual solution.

On May 6, 1994, the park was dedicated as Harbor Point Park. Many felt that this small addition to the marina was a priceless asset. One person quoted by The Bellingham Herald that day said, “without the park it’s an industrial, ugly area.” Similar sentiments were voiced by another resident who said, “if we let the waterfront go to industry it will be gone forever. Bellingham still has time to preserve it.”

Originally located at the Harbor Mall, an eight-foot-high anchor was moved to the park and rededicated that same day. It is a memorial to fishermen lost at sea between 1943 and 1975, containing names supplied by the society of wives of the lost gill-netters.

Harbor Point Park Became Zuanich Point Park

At the re-dedication, thirteen members of the disbanded wives society reunited for this special occasion. The anchor was found in Port Gamble in 1975 by Jay Gould, a Port Townsend fisherman who snagged his net on it. It was bought by the Port for the price of a new net. Gould ironically died at sea not long after.

In 1995, the park was officially renamed Zuanich Point Park in honor of retiring Port Commissioner Pete Zuanich, Sr., the longest standing Bellingham Port Commissioner (1953-1995). Born in 1916, Zuanich followed his father’s footsteps and worked as a commercial fisherman until heart surgery hastened his retirement.

More than 150 people showed up at his November 16, 1995 retirement ceremony, a day deemed “Peter Zuanich Appreciation Day” by former Mayor Tim Douglas. Ceremony speaker Port Commissioner Scott Walker said of Zuanich that he “can be combative and he doesn’t suffer fools easily, but at the same time he can charm a whole room. Pete is a man of common sense and uncommon wisdom.”

Other salutations came from local businesses, friends, co-workers and a personal letter from President Bill Clinton. Originally joining the Port Commission to “get the public to appreciate the fishing industry,” Zuanich’s achievements included: the building of Squalicum Harbor, luring Intalco Aluminum Corporation to Whatcom County and bringing the Alaska Marine Highway System to Fairhaven.

Park Renovated in 1998

Zuanich Point Park was renovated in 1998, creating more parking space, doubling the park’s size, and improving the walkways and viewing areas. In 2000, a multicolor adventure ship was added to the park. It was purchased by the Port of Bellingham through a monetary gift of $20,000 from Zuanich himself. He felt that the park lacked a climbing and play structure, after watching kids play on a similar facility in Boulevard Park near his home.

In 1997, The Bellingham Herald publicly announced the creation of “Safe Return,” a memorial statue for fishermen lost at sea, to be placed in the park in a spot where it could overlook the entrance to Squalicum Harbor. At 16 feet and 38,000 pounds, “Safe Return” depicts a bronze fisherman casting a line.

The statue is supported by a granite base that has bas relief panels depicting assorted fishing industry scenes, including a wheel house interior, Squalicum Harbor with its various fishing vessels, traditional Indian fishing techniques and a purse seiner hauling in its net. It was installed and dedicated Memorial Day 1999.

Statue for Bereaved Fishing Families

The statue was more than just an additional visual stimulus for the park, but also the fulfillment of a dream for a grand fishermen’s memorial and a formal closure for many bereaved families whose lives had been forever changed by the unexpected evils of the ocean. “No words can evoke what the statue will evoke,” First Congregational Church Pastor Donel McClellan said at the dedication.

The statue was blessed by a Croatian priest from Vancouver, British Columbia, in honor of the many Slavic fishermen who have settled in the county. Vernon Lane, Sr. and the Tom family from Lummi Nation offered a traditional Native American blessing—blessing the sea, the statue, those who had died as well as veterans in attendance—by circling the monument while singing and playing native instruments.

The designer and sculptor of the memorial was retired Whatcom County anesthesiologist Dr. Eugene Fairbanks, son of internationally recognized sculptor Avard Fairbanks. The statue was created at the request of Fairbank’s son, John, who was inspired after the death of his close friend Greg Schwindt, who died while fishing in the Bering Sea in 1993.

The cap of the bronze fisherman features the likeness of the fishing ship Lady of Good Voyage, the lost ship of Greg Schwindt, though the statue itself resembles no particular individual. Peter Zuanich described it as “a young man who’s aged with his experiences at sea.”

While still in the planning stages for the statue, Dr. Fairbanks wrote that “the monument is intended to be a place for solace of those bereaved and a source of pride for the community.” This brief prose doesn’t just describe the statue but Zuanich Point Park itself, which continues to be an oasis in the middle of industry and a place of reflection overlooking secluded Bellingham Bay.

Next Month — Part Seventeen
Little Squalicum Park

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