Donkey Creek officially opens, tying past to the future

January 29, 2014 

Donkey Creek wasn’t a typical engineering project. When it opened last October, the ground was blessed by the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, and former Mayor Chuck Hunter called it the “jewel” of Gig Harbor’s parks.

It was senior engineer Emily Appleton’s favorite project. The public interest, historical significance and environmental mitigation set it apart, she said.

Appleton flipped through a book of engineering plans with ease.

“There’s a plan for everything in here,” she said, landing on a page about bridge decking.

Appelton said there was a time when she had all the page numbers memorized.

One thing that stood out about the project was the teamwork, Appelton said. Construction supervisor Jeff Olsen, construction inspector Kyle Neiman and administrator Maureen Whitaker filled out the project team.

There also were city, state and national agencies, grant writers and more. It required permits, pipes and pavement. Donkey Creek had it all.

“It’s like everything I’ve ever done rolled into one project,” Appleton said.

The three phases — a new bridge, an estuary and frontage improvements — sought to mitigate an impact made in 1950. A pipe, which had made the lives of spawning salmon difficult, was removed.

Excavating the site was a trip back in time, Appleton said. The project required an archaeologist during the dig. The old wooden-trestle bridge, thought to be completely rotten, was uncovered.

The salvaged pylons have new life at the park as sign holders, a nuance in a project that set out to find the past and fold it into the present.

The team toured the site during an early phase with an elder from the Puyallup Tribe of Indians. He talked about things Appleton hadn’t even thought of before; how the new design was uncovering a people’s history.

The theme was featured in the opening ceremony last fall. Young girls in traditional dress, members of the Puyallup Tribe, danced for the salmon, for the tribes and for the future, and scattered prayers across the water.

“It was more than just a restoration,” Appleton said.

The Donkey Creek project made its presence known in the downtown waterfront. It started in March and required closures on Austin Street and Harborview Drive that lasted through the summer.

In July, when the bridge deck was put on, the project really began to take shape. It was one of Appleton’s proud moments.

There’s still a few more “punchlist items” to take care of, such as landscaping and signage, but the heavy lifting is over, Appelton said. Traffic is moving over the bridge and water underneath it. Salmon are running under the bridge, and pedestrians are walking on widened sidewalks.

Meanwhile, Appleton is moving on to another project — Ancich Park.

The city continues to change as the past moves into the future.

Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at

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