Charlotte's Blueberry Park attracts a multitude of berry-hungry pickers
August 1, 2015
Ripe fruit free for the picking at this Eastside neighborhood park
The prospect of fresh blueberries that are free for the picking turns Charlotte's Blueberry Park into a summer magnet for all kinds of people enjoying the experience of gathering their own.
The 20-acre park boasts thousands of decades-old berry bushes that thrive in its damp soil. Charlotte’s Blueberry Park was a farm years ago, and the land still sustains five kinds of blueberries. The varieties ripen at slightly different times, so the harvest season is often long, kicking off in July and extending through September.
If you are among those who squeeze through the thick bushes on the hunt for ripe fruit, keep your ears open, too. A busy day in this berry patch is an aural reminder of the diversity of our surroundings. At one bush, two Ukrainian immigrant women chat in Russian, while two bushes away a Korean-speaker both picks and monitors a lively grandson. There’s a murmur of Spanish in the background. On the way out of the park, a young mother rounds up a brood in French.
For some, visits to Charlotte’s Blueberry Park are a summer tradition. Yoon Bang, who is in his 60s, and his wife dropped in for a hour early one weekday morning and left with enough blueberries for muffins or pancakes. “It’s relaxing,” he said. “It’s exercise.”
Pickers pack out fresh fruit in all manner of totes: bowls, little plastic boxes, buckets, empty ice cream pails. Plus some recycled inventions. Bang and more than a few others, for example, had snipped off the tops of empty gallon milk jugs to make containers with wide mouths and sturdy handles. One family outfitted the kids by cutting down empty 2-liter pop bottles, punching holes in the plastic and stringing the resulting containers around the children’s necks.
Of course, with kids, not to mention adults, there’s lots of on-the-spot consumption. One mom could be heard to set ground rules: Pick four, eat one. “That’s a pretty good ratio,” she said, with hope in her voice.
Metro Parks officials encourage parents to keep a close watch on children, as the park’s bushes are dense in places. Visitors also should avoid leaving valuables in vehicles parked alongside the park.
Charlotte’s Blueberry Park was added to the Metro Parks system in 1999, after neighborhood activists rallied to prevent its development. It is named for the late Charlotte Valbert. She rounded up neighbors to conserve the park’s thousands of bushes and founded Friends of Blueberry Park. She passed away in 2010.
Since Valbert’s death, neighborhood volunteerism has waned while the popularity of the park during peak picking season has grown. The Metro Parks CHIP In! program seeks natural area stewards to help maintain and restore the fields and adjacent woodlands.
Laura Reeve answered the call last March. The 34-year-old California transplant devotes a few hours to the park every week. In the off season, she prunes and cuts brush. In summer, she picks up litter.
For Reeve, who lives a few minutes away, the park is a refuge from the hustle of the workaday world. Even when the berry patch is noisy and full of families, Reeve says she finds it calming. Over the past few months, she’s become even more appreciative of Tacoma’s unique blueberry sanctuary. “Everybody’s good about it,” she said of the pickers. “Nobody takes too much, just what they need. It’s a great park for everyone.”
- What: Charlotte’s Blueberry Park
- Where: 7402 E. D. St.
- When: Opens daily ½ hour before sunrise and closes ½ hour after sunset
- Cost: Free