SEDRO-WOOLLEY — With a new bridge in place, signs marking off-limit areas and a gate that will close automatically at night, the SWIFT Center is open to the public.
“The signs are up and the public is welcome,” Port of Skagit Executive Director Patsy Martin said.
From 7 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. the public is now welcome to drive, bike or walk through the historic Northern State Hospital campus that is now the SWIFT (Sedro-Woolley Innovation for Tomorrow) Center.
Signs along the center’s roads direct visitors to follow the “Historic Route” and avoid areas marked as “Authorized Access Only.”
Those off-limit areas house facilities for Cascades Job Corps College and Career Academy, Pioneer Center North and the North Sound Evaluation and Treatment Center.
The grounds of the campus are adorned with large trees including pines and willows, and sprawling lawns framed by surrounding hills — scenery that for decades has been largely out of the public eye.
“What a beautiful campus this was. We’re going to reintroduce that concept,” Skagit County Parks and Recreation Director Brian Adams said.
Adams and other county, port and Sedro-Woolley officials met Wednesday at the new Dovetail Bridge built by the Skagit Trail Builders over Hansen Creek.
There, at the new link between the county’s Northern State Recreation Area to the port’s SWIFT Center, they celebrated progress toward redeveloping and reopening the property.
Skagit County Commissioner Lisa Janicki credited Martin with the idea to expand the port’s reach into the eastern part of the county and make economic use of the SWIFT Center.
“It was a really great idea, as evidenced by what has come to fruition: A figurative and literal connection between county and port property,” Janicki said.
The port taking ownership of the property from the state and the city of Sedro-Woolley expanding city limits to bring it into the fold were two major steps in the process.
“We’re standing in city limits,” Sedro-Woolley City Supervisor and Attorney Eron Berg reminded the crowd at the bridge. “Forty years of pent-up desire to see something different at the SWIFT Center, to see this re-connection ... it’s happening.”
Port of Skagit Commissioner Kevin Ware said among the port’s lesser-known priorities are trails. Rebuilding trails at the SWIFT Center and on the surrounding grounds is an important part of the overall redevelopment effort, he said.
The redevelopment process began in earnest about six years ago, when Martin said a representative of the state agency that owned the campus asked the county, port and city to develop a joint vision for the property.
“Part of that plan (that we developed) was to restore public access, and that’s what this is,” Martin said, pointing to the new bridge that leads from the county recreation area onto the SWIFT Center.
The campus can now be accessed from the Northern State Recreation Area, from the city’s gravel lot near the roundabout on Fruitdale Road, or by parking on the campus in a lot between the Hub Building and the original hospital building.