Early, midday and into the night, they came for the best show in town. Onlookers Wednesday crowded Everett’s Grand Avenue Park. Neighbors watched and reminisced as a pedestrian bridge to the waterfront was maneuvered into place.
There were people with long memories in that line of spectators — and recollections of scampering down the 60-foot bluff as kids, of a stairway that was used by lunchbox-carrying millworkers, and of dashed efforts to create a link The Herald once described as “Everett’s dream bridge.”
“It was a good idea then and it’s a great idea now,” said Tim Knopf, 69, who lives nearby.
Knopf recalled how Drew Nielsen, an Everett City Councilman killed in a 2012 rafting accident, pushed for a footbridge to the waterfront for years.
In the early 1990s, Nielsen was a leader in Everett’s Northwest Neighborhood Association. He was a cheerleader for a plan by the city and the Port of Everett to share costs for a pedestrian bridge.
“After Everett paid an engineering firm to create four possible designs and locations, the port abruptly dropped out,” according to Herald archives. “The decision came amid concerns that sailors from the new Navy base would use Grand Avenue and nearby streets as a parking lot.”
After Nielsen was elected to the City Council in 2004, he pushed again for a waterfront link. The port was considering a bridge as part of its vision for the North Marina. Again, the pedestrian bridge remained just a dream, and the marina-area development we’re now seeing didn’t happen for more than a decade.
Everett’s Drew Nielsen Neighborhood Park, at Colby Avenue and 13th Street, was named in his honor, but Nielsen never got to see what happened Wednesday.
Many who did watch the engineering feat said they can’t wait for the $20 million bridge — also a utility project — to open sometime next year. And they shared memories of previous routes to bayside destinations.
Ken Schwartz, 53, used to take a stairway that once led to the waterfront from near 19th Street at the south end of Grand Avenue Park. “I went up and down those steps,” Schwartz said. He said his father, Jim Schwartz, was a battalion chief at a waterfront fire station.
“We’d go fish off the yacht club dock,” said Schwartz, who has spent his life in north Everett. He remembered a spot he called “the point,” near the old Western Gear site that’s now Naval Station Everett. “It was a huge dirt parking lot — a place to get in trouble.”
Everett’s Allan White said his grandfather, John Margaretich, used to take him down a little bluff trail to the waterfront, where they’d pick mushrooms that grew from old pieces of wood. “We’re looking so forward to this bridge,” said White, 57, a former member of the Everett Historical Commission.
During the day, White said, he watched the placement of the span via the city’s website. In the park after sunset with his wife, Leann, he said the bridge “is the buzz of the neighborhood.”
In recent weeks, partly due to the bridge project, road closures have been a challenge for the neighborhood. West Marine View Drive is scheduled to reopen Friday.
“For me and my neighbors, the bridge means instant access,” said Miriam Driss, a runner and walker who grew up in Milwaukee and moved here in 1991. She’s excited about using the bridge for summer treks to the Jetty Island ferry. “It will kind of extend our outdoor lives here,” said Driss, who loves the view of the waterfront year-round.
Rodger Griffin arrived at the park at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday and was still there at almost 8 p.m. He’d been taking video all day. His wife, Heather Griffin, is the city’s surface water manager and project manager for the bridge. She has worked years on the project that on Wednesday became a crowd-pleaser.
“The last time I remember seeing crowds like this was when the Navy ships came in,” said Jackie Knopf, Tim’s wife.
“It was a great day,” Rodger Griffin said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.