TWA members and others are talking to writer Sharon Babcock about enduring inspirations, life lessons, and perspectives from their experiences on the working waterfront.
This month’s feature: Todd Silver, retired businessman and avid rower.
Todd Silver rows his single shell on Commencement Bay almost every day of the year.
Three years ago, he sold 60 percent of his business, Rite in the Rain, which he managed with his brother, and retired from the day-to-day management while remaining on the board of trustees.
He now devotes his time and energy to rowing and its future in Tacoma.
Q: How did you begin rowing?
A: I am a long-time YMCA guy. I used to teach fitness classes at the downtown branch until my right knee began to bother me. In 1995, a colleague taught me to row on the Foss Waterway so I could keep exercising despite the knee. Part of the deal with him was that I had to race, so I started doing that with Sound Rowers, an organization that holds 17 races each year between Everett and Olympia. A Seattle racer, now 81 years old, asked me to join him in a double shell. We have raced for over 800 miles together, including five times in the Corvallis to Portland race. What I have learned is that racing gives me something to train for.
Q: What benefits have you experienced?
A: Rowing is both aerobic (affecting heart, lungs, and blood flow) and anaerobic (building strength, speed, power, and muscle mass). I continue to be drawn to it because it is fluid and efficient, happens outside, allows for viewing a variety of wildlife — a salmon once jumped into my boat — and provides solitude.
Because the water was five minutes away from our office, I found that I could go from my desk at work to rowing to a shower and back to my desk very quickly.
Rowing has increased my appreciation for clean water. My family has always enjoyed our area’s waters, but rowing brought them up close and personal. My brother and I took our products at Rite in the Rain — standard issue paper products for those who must write while outside in inclement weather — and changed the way the paper was treated from an oil-based chemical bath to a more environmentally friendly water process. We were and are concerned with the way our business interacts with the environment. Products are now 100 percent recyclable. However, making paper products was always a means to a higher end. I did not want my gravestone to say “He made great waterproof paper.”
Q: What is the “higher end”?
A: I have been a strong proponent of the development of Waterway Park at the south end of the Foss Waterway since 1998. The location currently has a floating dock providing access to the waterway’s gentle waters. Goals for the future capitalize on this existing water access for human-powered watercraft and include maximizing boat storage, providing access to the existing dock, incorporating natural open space, some parking, and adding a direct connection from the Dock Street overpass into the park.
A formal plan has been developed by the Foss Waterway Development Authority and Metro Parks with funding from the State of Washington’s Conservation Future Funds. It calls for a remodel of the existing Berg Scaffolding building to turn it into a boathouse with public/private restrooms, workshop, and boat storage facilities. Also planned is a new, secure boat-storage structure for outrigger canoes, dragon boats, and small, lighter watercraft, such a stand-up paddleboards and kayaks. Generous roof overhangs provide space for boat maintenance. Space for boat washing also would be provided. The existing dock would be remodeled to improve boat access and launching of larger vessels.
The park will connect to the Foss Waterway Esplanade from Dock Street via a bridge connected to the site. An open lawn adjacent to the boathouse would provide space for passive activities or events. Plans also include space for an off-leash dog park along the south and east edges of the site. Additionally, a separate network of informal paths would run through landscaping designed to enhance the native habitat.
Q: What is your view of the need for this park?
A: Tacoma is one of the few waterfront cities on the west coast without a non-motorized boat facility. Putting a boat on the top of your car each time you go out never works; it takes too long and is too cumbersome. The community has clearly expressed its interest and feelings about the need. Sometimes there have been 150-200 people at meetings about developing this park.
Q: What is next?
A: Stabilizing the Berg Scaffolding building, getting it dry, and completing the necessary funding. It has taken a very long time with several bumps in the road and surprises, but I believe it is going to happen.
Q: What are the challenges for Commencement Bay going forward?
A: That its inner city youth don’t get the opportunity to touch the soil and water. It’s like living next to a mountain and nobody has skis. I envision turning the bay into a playground for all ages using motorized and non-motorized vessels. There are no barriers to age, gender, or fitness level. If it is rowing you are doing, you can do it alone or in a shell of up to eight. I view it as medicine for the soul. It is impossible for the bay to get overcrowded. Look at Lake Washington and Lake Union in Seattle and the multiple ways people access and enjoy those bodies of water. Another challenge is keeping the bay clean despite the continued existence of industrial waste.
Q: What is the best thing you have discovered in these efforts?
A: Here you can call on others to help solve problems. Tacoma is large enough to have scale but small enough so people are known.