Squint and you can see more than Seaport Landing

You might look across the Chehalis River to south Aberdeen and see only the old docks and what’s left of what Weyerhaeuser left behind when it closed its sawmill.

Captain Les Bolton looks across the river and sees Seaport Landing, a renewable forest of masts on ships of all sizes, moored to more than a thousand feet of river bank. He sees tall ships, sailboats, canoes, kayaks, dinghies, a pedestrian ferry, maybe even a tugboat or two.

He looks at the 38 acres donated to Grays Harbor Historic Seaport Authority by Weyerhaeuser in March and envisions 14 buildings re-purposed, refashioned and rebuilt to house industry, commerce and heritage tourism.

His vision is closer than ever to becoming reality, now that the authority’s two tall ships, the Lady Washington and the Hawaiian Chieftain will dock July 3 at their first permanent home on Grays Harbor. A three hour cruise, that costs from $40 to $60 per person, is on sale for a Fourth of July trip to view the fireworks.

Bolton’s vision is shared by Alan Gozart, owner and principal of Harbor Architects, who will lead a team of firms to create and navigate a master plan that will tackle environmental, aquatic, industrial, and financial challenges. Both report negotiations regarding fees and phases are going well.

Both men want to transform the site into a recreational, residential and business enterprise akin to Granville Island in Vancouver, B.C., Gozart said.

As envisioned by Bolton and Gozart, ecologically friendly pathways and waterways will co-exist safely with re-purposed industrial buildings where everything from diesel engines to boats to electronic navigational systems can be made.

Aberdeen has been severed from its seafaring past, and “we are going to change that,” Bolton said. “… Fishing fleets use the same technology as a sawmill, so all the basics are there.”

In the vision of Bolton and Gozart, maritime crafts and trades can live next to river view housing and restaurants, heritage tourism can thrive and workers could be trained at Grays Harbor College where Gozart has helped design several buildings.

In their view, Seaport Landing could reverse the tide of pervasive economic downturn on the Harbor.

They see reconnecting Aberdeen to the water is the authentic way to reconnect Aberdeen with her past. “(I)t has the potential to have a huge impact. … I want to be there to help turn around the city. We could have something genuine here. We don’t have to fake it like Leavenworth. I love it here, we have to go for it, revive real history,” said Gozart, who is a native Aberdonian.

Leavenworth was re-invented as an “Alpine village” in the Cascades and it helped improve their tourist fortunes. While nothing is wrong with that, here, the history is real, Gozart is fond of saying.

Gozart sees a five masted lumber schooner on dry land where Aberdeen’s children can reconnect to work done by their ancestors. Bolton adds an exhibit based on pieces of the keel and ribs of the Wawona, a three master, taken apart several years ago.

A 19th century steam turbine might again light the lights near a boiler house. “See the history of the boiler, walk 15 feet and see the turbine run,” said Bolton, who became the Seaport Authority’s executive director in 1990. Seaport Landing is “not only a place to berth the tall ships but a place to tell the story of the harbor and it’s quite a story,” Gozart said in his offices on South F Street, where he and his team can see the site. The landing could be a $50 million project but it is “hard to know how big and how fast” it can be done, Gozart added.

Fundraising is crucial.

Bolton just signed Forterra, one of the largest conservation and community building groups in the Northwest, to help with “grant writing and fund raising from public and private corporations, government, (everywhere) under the sun for this project,” said Jordan Rash, conservation director. Seaport Landing is part of it’s Olympic Agenda, Rash said. The organization focuses on developing economies in rural communities in ways that are sensitive to the environment.

Forterra has been signed to a $38,000 contract for services written in a way so that Phase 1 is not to exceed that amount, Bolton replied in an email. Rash reported Forterra is signed through 2014. Gozart has also assembled a prospective team that will cover fund raising as well as design, civil engineering, environmental site cleanup and transportation needs.

On its website is the 500@500 project where 500 people are asked to contribute $500 to become a founding stakeholder in the landing. Donations can be made at any amount a month, Bolton said. The list currently numbers 32.

Then there is a volunteer corps that is growing with enthusiasm for the landing. Supporters such as Tori and Marcia Kovach mowed the lawn, Weyerhaeuser donated a 10-ton forklift, local businesses such as Windermere, donated a day of cleanup. Up to 30 citizens have shown up to work on their Saturday June cleanups. More than $350,000 worth of equipment will be put up for auction and may net more, Bolton said he was told.

Never one to miss an opportunity to ask for help, Bolton noted they need a “manlift” to clean 40 foot high gutters.

Bolton also has what he calls a “mind bank” of civic leaders such as Lisa Scott, Community Development Director, Malcolm Bowie, Director of Public Works, and Brian Little of the Planning Commission, plus Mike Daniels, a retired county public works executive who is a consultant. All thinking of “how to make this happen in the right way” as soon as possible.

They learn to celebrate and “walk away” rather than linger on their laurels, Bolton said. It’s on to the next stakeholder, volunteer cleanup or negotiation to enact a vision where the 89-foot main mast of the Lady Washington is moored beside the 75 foot mast of the Chieftain in a forest of new and renewed opportunities to evoke, celebrate, and profit from the seafaring past of Aberdeen and the Harbor.