Like many recent high school graduates, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about leaving home.
Well, dreaming. And plotting. And willing Sept. 20, move-in day at the University of Washington, to come sooner.
Yes, in a couple months, I’ll be flying the coop, quitting quiet little Gig Harbor for Seattle’s hustle and bustle. But this summer, I’ve also taken some time to look at this small town I’ve called home, and it’s quite a place to leave behind.
Gig Harbor is in the midst of some significant changes. When I drive home to Fox Island to visit on school vacations, the construction on Wollochet Drive NW will some day be finished, and it will widen the road to accommodate growing populations in Artondale and Arletta and on Fox Island.
New restaurants and shops will be open at Uptown.
The shiny new parts of Gig Harbor aren’t the things I’ll look forward to returning to, although getting home without stopping for roadwork sure will be nice.
No, what makes Gig Harbor home is what brought my family here in the first place: the small-town culture that, in spite of growth and changes, this community still celebrates and values.
Summer in the harbor puts that culture on dazzling display.
Boaters raft together off Dead Man’s Island. Forza Coffee is packed with trivia geeks each Wednesday evening. Music junkies lament the demise of the annual Underwater Music Festival, but families and friends gather to listen to the Shy Boys and the Beatniks at Skansie Brothers Park. When the sun sets, maybe they linger in the park to watch a movie.
Traditions like these make Gig Harbor a community.
Just as integral to the town’s culture are its locally owned businesses. Compare, for example, the atmosphere of the recently opened Applebee’s franchise at Point Fosdick Squire to that of the also-new Gourmet Burger Shop downtown. Both serve burgers, but only one captures Gig Harbor’s unique flavor.
And if you’ve ventured out to the Peace of the Earth farm stand in Rosedale, you know there’s a taste to new potatoes a farmer handed to you that same day that’s impossible to get at the Safeway or QFC produce departments.
Local businesses and their owners contribute to this town in a uniquely personal way. The Diaz family lives just a few blocks from their skate shop, Daddy-O’s Boardroom, in downtown Gig Harbor. Not only do they provide a service to the community, they are active and invested participants in it.
Can the same be said of CEOs of chain stores with headquarters across the country?
Last year, Gig Harbor beat out thousands of other cities across the country to rank among Smithsonian Magazine’s 20 best small towns in America. This small town’s distinction is that it remembers its heritage and celebrates its unique culture.
I’m a kid. I’m headed off to the city, and I am all about progress and change. But as I prepare to leave this beautiful place, I know I will remember my roots and return to my family often.
As Gig Harbor grows and changes, I hope this community will do the same.Anna Mikkelborg is a 2013 Gig Harbor High School graduate who contributes to the Youth Connection column once a month.