Metro Parks Tacoma

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Historic Photo of Two Boys Fishing at Snake Lake

From humble beginnings comes one of Tacoma's greatest treasures.

Long before Snake Lake and the surrounding area were set aside as a nature preserve, Native American tribes used the abundant resources of the wetland. The Snake Lake area was traditional tribal land used as a resource for berries, bulbs and tender shoots. The reeds were used for mats inside of dwellings as wall and floor coverings and on the outside as protective covering.

As the City of Tacoma grew, so did the number of people visiting Snake Lake. In 1890, the Tacoma-Lake City Railway was put in place on the east side of Snake Lake. The railway was constructed as a pleasure train, taking passengers from the hill above Old Town (26th Street) to a resort on American Lake. The railway closed after just seven years of operation, but the flat, even grade is still evident on the forested side of the lake.

Snake Lake soon became a popular recreation area. Many people ice-skated on its frozen waters in the winter. One tragic day in 1908, two boys died after falling through the ice. Twenty years later, Snake Lake and the surrounding area became part of the Metropolitan Parks District, a gift of R. A. Booth and others.

Bob Ramsey Giving Snake Lake Tour in Early 1970sIn the early 1970s William Glundberg, director of Metro Parks Tacoma, recognized the potential for a nature center on the site. Countless people and organizations, including Tahoma Audubon Society's Helen Engle, Bob Ramsey and Thelma Gilmur, fought long and hard to preserve the land and promote nature education. Citizens began to discover the wonderful resource in their own backyards.

When plans to construct State Route 16 right over the lake were revealed, concerned citizens and officials realized building on top of a wetland would create drainage problems. The road was designed to bridge Snake Lake instead. In 1972 the bridge over the south end of the lake was completed.

The park was dedicated in 1979 with an advisory board in place. Portable buildings arrived in 1981, and tours began for school and community groups as well as summer day camp programs.

Ten years later, the current interpretive center was completed with money from the 1986 "Parks for People" bond issue. School and group tours, outreach programs, community programs and special events all grew to meet the needs of an ever-growing and changing population. As the need for conservation grew, so did the response of The Tacoma Nature Center staff and volunteers. We will continue to work to increase understanding and appreciation of the natural world, a haven in the middle of the city.

During 2019 we are celebrating our 40th Anniversary. Learn more about the milestones of the last 40 years  here.

For more information, call us at (253) 404-3930.