This Washington enclave astounds newcomers
with its rare beauty and rich maritime history.

By Sarah Brueggemann
January 21, 2005
This Washington enclave astounds newcomers with its rare beauty and rich maritime history.
Matt Brown

As the sun rises over Gig Harbor, sailboat masts and statelyevergreens stretch toward the sky. The pale outline of MountRainier is sketched into the horizon. Within the serene setting,two redheaded boys carry a rail-thin kayak to the public dock foran early paddle. In this Washington community, locals don't want towaste a minute of the new day.

"We wake up every morning to incredible beauty―themountains and rippling harbor. You never take it for granted," saysJanis Denton, owner of the Waterfront Inn. The Tacoma NarrowsBridge, she says, "creates a psychological break from the rest ofthe world. We will always stay peaceful because of the surroundingwater."

Geography has long defined the town's identity. For more than100 years, fishing, boatbuilding, logging, and farming dominatedlife in Gig Harbor. This place once boasted the largest fishingfleet in the Pacific Northwest. Today, many descendants of originalCroatian settlers still own and operate the barnacle-encrustedvessels and net sheds lining the shore.

Born and raised here, fisherman/photographer Guy Hoppen takespride in the area's maritime past. "A lot of guys I went to schoolwith couldn't wait to get out, but that thought never occurred tome," he says. "I'm still very connected with the water. I want tomake sure Gig Harbor retains its nautical character."

Citizens support conserving both the marina and the town center.A sign outside No Dearth of Books reads, "Shopping the Internet iseasy and convenient, but it does nothing to fix Gig Harborpotholes." With the recent addition of a megastore center to thenorth, some worried the populace would abandon the historicdistrict. But with improved sidewalks, beds of tulips, and two newparks that preserve open space, the downtown stays viable andfun.

"Everyone loves to get involved," says resident Jennifer Kilmer."During the Fourth of July parade, there are more people marchingthan watching." It's small enough for everyone to know each other,she adds, "but there are enough new people for the town to feelwelcoming."