Murkiness surrounding the fate of South Puget Sound’s Lakebay Marina is beginning to look a bit more clear

The first time I tied up at the Lakebay Marina, a shaggy-looking guy tried to sell me a used motorboat. Then I nearly put my foot through a rotten spot on the wooden dock. But the smell of French fries drew me up to the gangway, and I soon found myself entranced by the funky charm of the 1920’s-era white wooden building perched atop the pier.

Inside, teenagers flipped burgers in one corner of the large main room, near a set of ancient enameled refrigerators, their glass windows displaying cold drinks. People ate and chatted at tables spread around the space, while a man in his late 40s, clearly the boss, acted like a performer: spinning plates, overseeing the restaurant, chatting with customers, and dashing about. My friends and I left the marina feeling wistful. That guy was obviously doing his best to keep a dream alive, but with all the work the place required, he wasn’t likely to succeed.

The main building and restaurant at Lakebay Marina.

Among the last of the non-corporate marinas in Washington, Lakebay has long been a down-home spot for the everyman. Many in the boating community were concerned when the owner of the troubled operation finally decided to call it quits. But then the Recreational Boating Association of Washington (RBAW) stepped in, offering to buy the docks, pier, and buildings sitting on nearly 18 acres.

Bob Wise, the RBAW’s new president, told me that the group had “become focused on lobbying and legal issues.” While not downplaying the importance of those activities, he also wanted to “shake up the organization. To take it back to its roots.” Those roots include the purchase and donation of what is now Sucia Island State Park, widely acknowledged as one of the crown jewels of the Washington State Park system.

“This project is remarkably similar to Sucia,” Wise explained. “If a well-heeled investor appeared, the site could disappear. It harkens back to an earlier time.” In acquiring the property, the RBAW saw an opportunity preserve a historic Mosquito Fleet ferry landing and maintain a marina Wise describes as possessing “an older waterfront vibe.” An aquatic roadhouse of sorts, Lakebay Marina “draws people from the Key Peninsula,” he noted. “It’s not just a boat destination.”

RBAW aims to preserve the character of the main building while adding new infrastructure, making it safe and inviting. Among its long-term goals, the organization would like to install new docks and a pump-out facility, clean up the shore side areas, restore the boat ramp, and provide some kind of food service. “I can see art exhibits, music, maybe a coffee shop,” Wise said.

A derelict vessel sits on a floating pier near Lakebay Marina.

Ultimately, RBAW hopes to donate the site to Washington State Parks. Because of its historic value, it would be a unique addition to adjacent Penrose Point State Park; but it would also add shoreline, tidelands, and a 15-acre upland forest, opening possibilities for recreation or infrastructure. Wise has met with the head of Parks as well as the parks commission and reports that they are “extremely interested.”

If you’ve ever been to Penrose Point on a sunny summer day, you know it’s a busy place that could use the extra space. “I’m guessing we’ll have about 30 slips by the time we’re done,” Wise told me. “I can see local yacht clubs having a rendezvous here. And it’s a great place for swimming, crabbing, and kayaking.”

New docks, a pump-out station and upgraded facilities would be major upgrades for attracting visitors.

One crucial factor is lacking in the plan to preserve Lakebay Marina for the future: funding. The RBAW has raised about $300,000 to date, but another million dollars will be needed to secure the site, plus significantly more to conduct renovations.

Wise is undaunted. “A lot of boaters have resources, and some probably have fond memories of summers past here. Donating to the project could be their legacy.” If you can help a little, or a lot, the RBAW would love to hear from you.

I won’t miss the rotten boards on the docks, but I’m already looking forward to eating fish and chips while overlooking a restored and revitalized slice of the past.