By Jean Janes
Summer days in Tacoma are beautiful, and as the weather heats up, having lovely outdoor places to take the kids is one of the wonderful things about living in this area. Recently, we took the time to explore Charlotte’s Blueberry Park. We had driven by it often, but I had always assumed it was a tiny lot, or that admission was required for picking blueberries. I’m glad we decided to stop and look after all. Not only is Charlotte’s Blueberry Park available for free harvesting from July to September, it is also a charming spot for picnicking and playing. Behind the park is a small army of volunteers and supporters who have worked to keep Charlotte’s Blueberry Park here. In taking some time to learn about the park’s history, I have come to appreciate the value of this location for the neighborhood that has fought to retain the blueberries and land for more than forty years.
A plaque near the entrance of the park explains some history and geography of the area, much of which is protected wetlands. Thanks to volunteers working to maintain and garden, blueberry bushes are bursting with berries without the use of pesticides. While there is not much to pick in early July, there are potential berries abundant on each of the more than 4,000 bushes. Those who take the time may still manage to find a few ripe ones this soon. When my family and I toured the park, we found enough to present the kids a sampling, but not enough to take home. A few dedicated pickers there when we visited were carrying bags or buckets heavy with their bounty. The few ripe berries we found were primarily up high so we decided to forego any serious harvesting and just let the kids enjoy themselves.
It was like a treasure hunt. My four-year-old explored the caves of foliage with my husband, dodging among leaves and dappled sunlight. The rows of thick bushes create tunnels just the right size for curious children to investigate. The bright summer sun barely penetrates the greenery, forming a shadowed network that readily opens back out onto the park pathways. My son and husband spent their time hiding, calling each other, ducking, and playing. Every so often, I’d hear an enthusiastic “Found one!” from either my son or his dad from within the blueberry jungle.
The love and devotion committed to this park is evident in the details around the grounds. Very little trash offends. The rows of blueberry bushes are neat and clearly cared for. The lawn is neatly cut along the path and within the shady picnic area. The park itself is the result of community spirit and civic care. Had it not been for the tremendous efforts of members of the surrounding neighborhood, the blueberry plants would have been lost some forty years ago when ownership changed hands from Berg’s Blueberry Farm to the Tacoma School District in 1968.
As the Metro Parks website explains, the local community continued their fight to keep and maintain the blueberry bushes until 1997, when the area was officially designated Blueberry Park. In 2010, the Metro Parks Tacoma Board of Park Commissioners renamed the park Charlotte’s Blueberry Park to honor the memory and work of Charlotte Valbert. Charlotte was a long-time supporter of the park and founder of Friends of Blueberry Park, a group that continues to work as a Volunteer Steward Group. They help to maintain the blueberry bushes and grounds for the community to enjoy.
During our visit, I meandered along the paved path with my eighteen-month-old who was thrilled to be allowed the freedom to inspect grass, rocks, and anything else that struck his fancy. Since lawn and bushes border the walkway, I was content to let him strike out on his own, as long as he was in sight and didn’t try eating any of his fascinating finds.
The park is a natural oasis of calm, insulated by trees and vegetation. I am really looking forward to visiting again in the coming weeks as the berries ripen.
Armed with buckets, I plan to allow my little ones to enjoy some blueberry picking. Maybe I will be able to teach them something about where food comes from and the work involved in harvesting.
More importantly, I intend to tell them the story of how, through community dedication and advocacy – and now through ongoing volunteer work and care — Charlotte’s Blueberry Park is available for us all to enjoy.
7402 E D Street
Tacoma, WA 98404
Opens 1/2 hour before sunrise and closes 1/2 after sunset
Get driving directions here.