First in a series
Tourism is down in Bainbridge Island this summer due to COVID-19 restrictions – even at its No. 1 attraction, Bloedel Reserve.
But Chris Mueller, executive director of Visit Bainbridge Island, said efforts are being made to encourage Staycations – where people get to better know their own areas. Other towns in Kitsap County, such as Bremerton, Silverdale and Poulsbo, are the focus.
“We’re trying to encourage each other’s communities to visit each other,” she said Tuesday, adding people often don’t know or take the time to find out what’s in their own back yard.
Mueller said while she wants to see more tourists to help local businesses, she also wants everyone to stay safe. So she is encouraging outdoor activities, such as at Bloedel or one of the many parks on the island. “That encompasses everything we’re trying to promote,” she said. “Take advantage of the weather.”
To encourage locals to get outside, Mueller said the Bainbridge Island Parks Foundation is putting on programs this month, with themes each week. This first week is called Picnic in the Park.
Mueller said normally she encourages visitors to walk on the ferry, but now it’s better to bring a car to social distance yourself from others. “You can explore the entire island easily in one day,” she said. “You can get the flavor of the different neighborhoods.”
With the ferries running reduced schedules this summer Mueller encourages folks to avoid peak times. The reductions aren’t helping with social distancing, some say, because each ferry is packed. Motorists in vehicles are asked to stay there during the ride and concessions onboard are closed.
If you do bike or walk on Mueller suggests planning early around the Bainbridge Island Transit schedule.
Tourists can’t go to a movie or visit the popular historic and art museums, but they can get takeout from a restaurant and go to a vista, go beachcombing or go camping or rent a cabin, she said. If you want to stay the night Destination Bainbridge’s Lodging Association has an extensive list of places to stay. Bed and Breakfasts are a “difficult business model right now,” Mueller said, adding they are not as “self-contained.” Hotels with “very stringest protocols are fairly full,” she added.
In the past few years cruise ships in Seattle have provided a short-term boost for local businesses. “That never materialized due to COVID,” she said. “Thousands of people evaporated.”
Mueller said luckily for Winslow businesses here “strike a good balance between locals and tourists.” Rather than chain stores, historic downtown is filled with quaint stores with character. Locals like that but tourists do too, Mueller said. “Live like a local,” is a tourism mantra, she added.
In her 33 years in hospitality, Mueller said she’s never seen anything like this. “It’s like the Twilight Zone,” she said, but people “just can’t take it anymore. I gotta do something with my kids.”
The 150-acre botanical garden with 23 landscapes in the north part of the island at 7571 NE Dolphin Drive is rated the top tourist attraction here by Trip Advisor.
Because of COVID-19 it is limited. An online ticket system has been set up so 16 people can be in the facility at a time through August. Visitors average about two hours to walk along the 2-mile trail. A shorter trail is ADA accessible.
Everyone must wear a mask but you can uncover your face on the trail until you come within 6 feet of someone outside your family. Indoor facilities are closed, but you still can’t bring in food or beverages or pets – only bottled water. Restrooms are open. Events are canceled.
Visitors stroll along groomed trails through gardens, wildlife habitats, forests, ponds and meadows. Favorite locations are: the 200-foot-long Reflection Pool, Japanese Guest House and Garden, Trestle Bridge, Sand and Stone Garden, Moss Garden, and Buxton Bird Marsh and Meadow.
The reserve, given to the public in 1988 by Prentice and Virginia Bloedel, is trying to raise $675,000 for an Environmental Horticulture Center that would make it more self-sustaining. It would include a new composting facility, greenhouse, shade house, horticultural training center, staff offices, remodeled and expanded maintenance building for equipment and tools, and comprehensive site and structure upgrades.
Bloedel Reserve is open year-around, Tuesday-Sunday. Summer hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Tickets can be purchased online at bloedelreserve.org/tickets. Tickets are $17 for adults; less for others.
The reserve was recently named one of the Top 10 botanical gardens in the country by USA Today. It was ranked seventh after placing 10th a few years ago.
“This honor recognizes the beauty of our landscapes, our commitment to excellence in horticulture and conservation, and our work to enrich lives using nature’s ability to enhance well-being and creativity,” Executive Director Ed Moydell commented on the reserve’s website.