The City of Port Washington needs to annex Coal Dock Park.
Technically, the park, just across the harbor from the downtown, is within the city.
Practically, it’s remote. You can get there from here, but not easily.
It’s time to get serious about bridging the gap between the city center and the park with, yes, a bridge.
A pedestrian bridge over the harbor the short distance between Rotary Park and Coal Dock Park is not a new idea. It has been talked about since the idea of turning the power plant coal dock into a park was born in the early days of the 21st century. But it has been treated as a fantasy, science fiction that might come true in a faraway future.
The time for the bridge is now. There are many ideas out there for completing the development of Coal Dock Park, but the bridge should move to the top of the list. The bridge should be the priority.
Don’t get us wrong. Coal Dock Park is a community asset as it is, valued by fishermen, walkers and runners and people who go there just to experience the intimacy with the water that this remarkable piece of land jutting into Lake Michigan offers.
Yet in the two and one-half years the park has been open it has not met the expectation that its 17 acres of space would make it an ideal site for festivals and other large community gatherings. Events held there do not connect with the downtown—and bringing people downtown is the whole point of these events—owing mostly to the perception that the park is separate from the city and difficult to access.
To its credit, the city provides a public harborwalk that connects the park to the downtown, but it is used little, perhaps because it passes through an environment that can seem inhospitable as it follows the perimeter of the old commercial west harbor slip through a canyon of high buildings. As an alternative, it’s easy enough to walk to and from the park along Wisconsin Street, but that is a walk many visitors aren’t interested in taking.
A bridge would instantly make Coal Dock Park a part of the downtown. Events—a revived Maritime Heritage Festival among many others—could seamlessly spread over the marina area, Rotary Park and Coal Dock Park.
This should not be dismissed as a luxury or expensive frill or some sort of audacious flyer. The City of Port Washington has managed public lakefront development far more daunting than a pedestrian bridge over the 165 feet of water that separates its two harbor parks.
To transform the north harbor slip, which was open to storm seas and unsuitable for recreational watercraft, into the appealing heart-of-the-city marina it is today, the city in the late 1980s, backed by federal and state grants, set in motion the movement of hundreds of tons of earth and stone to form the peninsula that protects the marina and creates the land that is Rotary Park. Now that was audacious!
In 2009, the Ozaukee Interurban Trail opened its pedestrian and bike bridge over I-43 in the Town of Grafton. The bridge, built with state grants and private donations, is 415 feet long. Port Washington’s harbor bridge would be small stuff by comparison.
The harbor bridge would be a wholly positive addition to the city’s lakefront. It should not be a concern that the structure would close the west slip to large powerboats and all sailboats. That part of the harbor is vulnerable to seas rolling in from the lake and has a constant surge that makes it unfit for mooring boats. The few charter fishing boats that put up with the conditions to tie up there could find better accommodations in the marina. Meanwhile, an arched bridge design would allow smaller craft to pass beneath it for fishing or paddling.
Beyond its role of joining Coal Dock Park to the downtown, the harbor bridge would be an appealing attraction in its own right—nirvana for connoisseurs of water views.
Some of the city government resources currently being devoted to promoting private commercial development of the harbor area would be well spent advocating for this public lakefront development—with a greater return of benefit to the community.
City officials have proven adept at securing grants for rebuilding the breakwater and for creating Coal Dock Park itself. They should take on the harbor bridge challenge with a goal of similar success. Sooner rather than later—because it’s time to annex Coal Dock Park.