PORT ORCHARD — An extra hour of sunlight last Sunday, thanks to the start of Daylight Standard Time that morning, and an unseasonably clear blue sky in normally wet November allowed for Manchester State Park visitors to comfortably wander the lush greenery gracing the 111-acre camping park that sits along the shore of Rich Passage in Puget Sound.
The state park offers overnight campsites and RV hookups in the summer, but on this serene fall afternoon, it was quiet as the sun began its western setting. The lonely setting was punctuated by just a handful of folks with leashed dogs in tow, walking Manchester’s two miles of trails and along its 3,400 feet of saltwater shoreline. A photographer led a young couple from spot to scenic spot, capturing photos for their engagement announcement while two strollers sat at the water’s edge, engaged in amiable conversation.
Standing guard and overlooking the shoreline off Rich Passage is a grand brick structure built in the early 1900s and used to store underwater torpedo mines. It was later used during the war years as an officer’s club, barracks and mess hall.
The grandiose storehouse was built in a time when most government structures — even those serving the most utilitarian of purposes — were designed to last into the next century with an ornate, elegant appearance. It was the standout feature of the U.S. Navy’s Middle Point satellite facility to Fort Ward on Bainbridge Island, both created to protect the Bremerton shipyards by operating a minefield in Rich Passage. The brick building now serves as a large group day-use picnic shelter that can accommodate up to 150 guests inside.
Across the way is a small, bunker-like concrete building — called a mining casemate — that at one time, housed the remote controls for the mines. Today, it is an empty, dank, lichen-encrusted shell, its window casements and doors removed long ago.
Protecting the shipyards
During the Second World War, the military facility was converted to a Navy fuel supply depot and firefighting station, according to state parks department historical records. Middle Point kept guard over this stretch of Puget Sound until it was decommissioned in 1958. In 1970, the state of Washington acquired the property from the federal government and turned it into a state park that was named for the nearby town of Manchester.
To be able to use Manchester State Park, visitors entering with a vehicle need a Discover Pass to park for the day. An annual pass from the state parks department costs $30. A single-day pass is $10 and can be obtained at a self-service station next to the parking area.
There are several days during the year, however, when visitors don’t need a pass. The parks department offers 12 free days throughout the year to observe recreation “holidays” and a couple of federal holidays. Two free days remain this year — Nov. 11 is Veterans Day and Nov. 29 is Autumn Day.
Here are free days for 2020: Jan. 1, First Day Hikes and News Year’s Day; Jan. 20, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day; March 19, State Parks’ 107th Birthday; April 11, Spring Day; April 22, Earth Day; June 6, National Trails Day (a free Fish & Wildlife day); June 7, Fishing Day (also a free Fish & Wildlife day); June 13, National Get Outdoors Day; Aug. 25, National Park Service’s 104th Birthday; Sept. 26, National Public Lands Day; Nov. 11, Veterans Day; and Nov. 27, Autumn Day.